Superintendent’s Report Card

report cardWhat does it take to get “less than high marks?”

Isn’t it ironic that Superintendent Bruce Thomas got high marks on his annual review by the school board?  I would think the main goal for Bruce Thomas was to get the school bond issue approved. We all know that the school bond issue was resoundingly rejected in last fall’s election by the taxpayers of ISD 318.
This was the main reason Bruce Thomas was hired and he failed in epic proportions.  How much money was spent by the proponents of the school bonding bill?  What were the money sources?  How many man-hours were wasted on this effort?  Could there have been a more effective use of this time?
This issue drove a huge wedge between the school board and its constituents. It will take years for the wedge to fade away.
I’ve been involved in receiving and giving annual reviews.  The first thing to be considered is the status of the annual goals? Were the individual goals achieved? It would be helpful to know the goals for current year and the previous year.  Did the school board set his annual goals?
An annual review is a key item in evaluating a professional’s performance.  If there is no constructive criticism and key goals are failed to be addressed, the person undergoing a performance review is being handed a dis-service.   If you are an elected official executing this type of performance review, you have also failed your constituents.

Taxpayers irate over $3 million Cloquet schools blunder

Vote NO on the November 3 bond referendum.


Vote NO on the November 3 bond referendum.
Because the Board has NO Plan to solve the many problems facing the school except to build new schools.
The board has No Facts to support its position.
The board has No Concerns about the existing imminent tax burdens of school district tax payers.
There have been No Answers to questions raised by the voters.
Board has No Dialogue with the taxpayers on alternatives to spending $80,000,000.
There is No Guarantee that academic performance will improve.
The Board has No Clue on how to proceed.
Just vote NO on Nov. 3

The Best Education We Can Afford – Part 2

By: John Nelson
Grand Rapids Voice

In a previous article published by the Western Itasca Review and Scenic Range News Forum, Grand Rapids Voice stated that we all want the best possible education for our children that we can afford. In that article, we showed that the community cannot afford the proposed $80 million bond presented by the school district for several reasons. There are, however, other compelling reasons to oppose the approval of the bond issue.

The ISD School Board has published and disseminated reams of material stating how badly the district needs the proposed new schools. But, can we rely on the information presented by the district? Grand Rapids Voice believes the district has misrepresented the need for these new schools and has misled the public with their publications.

For five years, the district has worked with Johnson Controls to develop the plans to build the two new grade schools. It should be noted that Johnson Controls is in the business of building new schools and their efforts are directed to that end. To show the district pursued due diligence, they had Johnson Controls also provide proposals for refurbishing and remodeling the existing schools. In this, the district has had a company whose business is to build new schools do the proposal for the refurbishing of the existing schools which is not in their business expertise. The numbers clearly show that the proposals presented by Johnson Controls heavily favors building new schools. Big surprise!

The public has not been informed that Johnson Controls proposed and convinced the Duluth schools that closing of schools and consolidation was an answer to the district’s problems. Johnson controls then controlled the engineering, contracting and construction of the new schools they promoted. In doing so, they controlled the process and prevented any competitive bidding on the project. This is an obvious conflict of interest and appears to be continued in ISD 318.

Grand Rapids Voice was contacted by an independent company whose primary business is the remodeling and refurbishing existing school buildings to fit the needs of modern education. The company informed us they had approached the district asking to provide a competitive proposal to the building of new schools which is in their area of expertise. The district would not even consider allowing them to enter into the proposal or bidding process. Grand Rapids Voice was also informed that, while the estimates are not exact or precise, the independent company felt that the four existing schools could be refurbished, remodeled and made more energy-efficient for a community contribution of $25 million and potentially less. This possibility is far less than the Johnson Controls refurbishing proposal of $55 million and 30% of the Johnson Controls proposed $80 million for new schools. It appears that no companies other than Johnson Controls were permitted to bid on any part of the process and they claim they have exhausted all possibilities. This is misleading on its face.

At a recent public forum, Superintendent Thomas stated that the district had entertained submissions by four separate companies. When asked to name the companies permitted to submit proposals, Thomas said he could not remember the names of the companies. It is odd that the names of four companies submitting proposals on an $80 million project that has been in the works for five full years could not be remembered. It would appear that Thomas and the district cannot supply the names of competitive proposals as they, apparently, may not exist. The district is telling the public that the process has been open and transparent but the facts do not support this assertion.

The district states that skyrocketing K-5 enrollment requires new and expanded school facilities. However, the district does not tell the public that a substantial part of any increase is in the manner in which kindergarten students are counted. When kindergarten was ½ day, each student was counted as ½ student. This year all kindergarteners attend full days and are now counted as 1 student. By this simple change, the kindergarten enrollment doubled without adding a single child. In her article Itasca County Student Numbers Hold Steady by Kitty Mayo published in the Scenic Range News Forum and Mines and Pines, she showed clearly that the enrollment over the past 5 years in our community has not only held steady but has declined over the past 5 years. In their publications, the district has presented graphs of student population increase. The district, however, did not publish a complete graphic representation of student population and started their data at the low point following the recession of 2008 where enrollment dropped precipitously due to families leaving the area. Again, the district has misrepresented a crucial part of its rationale for building new schools. The data showed by Ms. Mayo shows that enrollment this year, with the change of the manner in which kindergarteners are counted, the student enrollment is less than in the previous four years and only 66 more than in 2011-2012. Assuming a kindergarten class of 200 children, the increase in enrollment from the manner in which they were counted accounts for 100 child increase. It is apparent that the enrollment is not skyrocketing and is, at best, holding steady. Again, the district is making an effort to mislead the public.

The district has made great efforts to show that the tax increase on a $150,000 house is nominal. The numbers may sound good but they represent a significant increase in property tax. For a $200,000 home, the increase represents an increase of approximately 10%. Business taxes will be substantial and the district does not mention the impact on the public in having to pay this increase due to increases in the price of all goods and services sold within the district. People with agricultural land that is non-homesteaded, hobby farm, Christmas tree farms, woodlots, etc., will pay additional by the acre. Rent for apartments will increase due to substantial increases in apartment building taxes. This is hardly an insignificant and minor increase.

What does Bigfork get from the bond proposal? Bigfork does not get a desk, a chair, a text-book or a sheet of paper. For their tax increase, Bigfork and other outlying areas get absolutely NOTHING.

How much is $80,000,000?

MoneyBy Grand Rapids Voice

Recently, while enjoying a cup of McDonald’s coffee with a group of friends, also recently referred by a local as the old white men’s club, I was asked how somebody even related to a number like eighty million dollars. Almost immediately as people tried to draw a comparison it became apparent that very few can comprehend such a number. To that end I spent some time the next day trying to put some meaning to the number in some form of local context.
After some thought of what might help us visualize what can be built with eighty million I went to the county parcel inquiry sight and looked for anything that might be a facility that was familiar to the public as usable as a school. In my quest I couldn’t help but think of some of the local hotels as they usually have big ballrooms also known as gymnasiums, conference room, commercial kitchen and perhaps a pool. A pool is always nice. The most likely candidate for my comparison appeared to be the most recently completed Timberlake Lodge valued for tax assessment purposes at $4,700,000. Now let me say that this is certainly a top of the line hotel property and I thank the owners for making this kind of commitment to the tax base, it is a wonderful property.
Using the county parcel inquiry measuring tool, it was relatively easy to measure the length of the property to be somewhere between 950 to 960 feet long. Now I think I have something I hope my friends can understand or at least get a vision.
Let’s say we lined up these hotel properties valued at $4,700,000 end to end using the land footprint of 960’ long, how far south could we go if we were to spend $80,000,000? The simple math calculation tells us at that price we could build 17 of these beautiful hotels with 960 feet of land under each and it would reach continuously from the existing hotel to beyond the Harris Town Road.
Now of course we don’t need 17 pools with water slides or 17 gymnasiums but are you getting an idea of what 80 million dollars might look like?