Archive for the ‘Cronyism’ Category

Thus far in this series, I’ve highlighted the fact that the ISD742 School Board hasn’t talked about St. Cloud’s high school enrollment forecasts for the short-, medium- and long-term. They didn’t tell voters that they’ve already purchased the land for a new Tech HS. That wasn’t announced on the District’s website. It was announced this past week on Dan Ochsner’s radio program when a current school board member called into Ox’s show and blurted that information out.

Last year, voters found out in the newspaper that there wasn’t a finalized set of blueprints for people to look at because, according to Barclay Carriar, “with the cost of designing a building, 80 percent of it isn’t going to be designed until after the referendum. And the plans we’ve got now are still tentative.”

Last year, taxpayers didn’t know that the plans were “still tentative.” This year, we didn’t know that the District had already purchased the land where the new Tech HS is supposed to be built at. The next logical question that taxpayers should demand answers to is what other information the School Board hasn’t disclosed. At this point, taxpayers don’t know where the money came from to pay for the Tech HS land. That’s certainly something that we should know. Did the District have enough money tucked away to pay for the land? At this point, taxpayers don’t know.

The thing that taxpayers know, though, is that they aren’t writing any blank checks this year. This isn’t the time when people are trusting politicians. The School Board is asking taxpayers to approve the biggest property tax increase in St. Cloud history without telling taxpayers that they’ve already bought the land for the new high school. That’s terrible because the taxpayers haven’t approved the bonds yet. That tells taxpayers that the School Board is taking them for granted.

Just because the School Board is a rubberstamp doesn’t mean that taxpayers are a rubberstamp. Taxpayers don’t want a canned presentation. They want input from start to finish. That’s something that the School Board isn’t willing to relinquish.

In my estimation, the ISD742 School Board has transitioned from being public servants to being arrogant taskmasters. That’s why the bonding referendum must be defeated. That’s why we need new School Board members elected ASAP.

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It isn’t surprising that the Establishment has a different perspective on whether to build a new Tech High School. The title of their Our View Editorial is “Vote ‘yes’ twice to deliver best value for schools.” To be fair, not everything in the editorial is foolishness.

For instance, they have a legitimate point when they say “If you think it’s adequately built to educate today’s youth — not to mention future generations — you have not been in its crowded hallways between classes, especially if your mobility is impaired.”

The question isn’t whether doing nothing is an option. It isn’t. The question is whether the options on this November’s ballot represent the best value for students and taxpayers. They don’t. The current options are the School Board’s choice. The School Board started with a goal, then they tried figuring out how to make it happen.

They didn’t ask, in any meaningful way anyway, what the district’s enrollments would be in 2020. They certainly didn’t think of what the district’s need would be in 2050. It’s certain that ISD742 will look dramatically different in 2040 than it looks today. This argument is total foolishness:

If both questions pass, the monthly increase in taxes for a $150,000 home will be about $13. Approving just a new Tech costs about $9 a month.

So what? The important question that still hasn’t gotten asked is what the district’s needs are. Telling me that the payments on something are $13 a month for the next generation doesn’t tell me whether that something will be useful for the next generation.

The other question that hasn’t been asked is why these prices reflect prevailing wage bids. The cost of everything is increased with prevailing wage bids. The quality doesn’t increase, either. Why would taxpayers want to pay extra for something that isn’t dramatically better? The unions might howl about this but that isn’t my responsibility. My responsibility is to vote for the best product at the least expensive price.

For example, to address neighborhood concerns about the future of the Tech campus, the district has said it will move its administrative offices and welcome center to the older parts of Tech. Similarly, more thorough research was done — and remains available — about the costs of building new compared with rebuilding old.

There’s no question that more information is available this time. Still, there’s no question that the School Board still hasn’t answered the most important questions. There’s no question that building a new high school and renovating Apollo doesn’t represent a great value to students and taxpayers. It’s too expensive and it’s too big for our needs.

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It’s indisputable that Gov. Dayton fights harder for golden parachutes for his political appointees than he’s fought for tax relief for farmers, veterans, students with student loan debt and small business owners. In fact, it’s indisputable that Gov. Dayton and the DFL have fought hard to increase commissioners’ pay.

Think about this: Gov. Dayton and the DFL passed legislation that gave Gov. Dayton’s commissioners pay raises that sometimes exceeded $30,000 a year. Then Gov. Dayton illegally gave 3 of his political appointees more than $75,000 in severance packages. Katie Clark-Sieben’s pay raises increased her salary by $60,000, then she received a $33,750 golden parachute when she left government to pursue other interests. Meanwhile, the DFL legislative leadership has been quiet as a mouse about the severance packages.

Thankfully, Republicans Speaker Daudt and Rep. Sarah Anderson aren’t letting go of this. Speaker Daudt released this statement, saying “Once again, Governor Dayton has disrespected taxpayers and used their money to inappropriately reward his top officials who are already making six-figure salaries. Today’s report highlights the importance of House Republicans’ role as a check and balance on Democrats’ wasteful spending.” Speaker Daudt’s statement also included this:

House Republicans are calling on Governor Dayton to explain unauthorized taxpayer-funded severance payments after a report emerged Tuesday that his administration awarded nearly $80,000 to state employees who voluntarily departed. The most generous severance agreement, awarded to a former Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, came on the heels of massive taxpayer-funded pay increases authorized by Governor Dayton. This commissioner was previously a top staffer on Dayton’s campaign for governor in 2010.

The DFL’s actions are insulting on multiple levels. First, the DFL’s priorities aren’t Minnesota’s priorities. The last time the DFL ran St. Paul, they passed a bill that paid for the $90,000,000 Senate Office Building. They passed another bill that gave $30,000 pay raises to high-profile political appointees. Those aren’t priorities for many Minnesotans.

This year, Gov. Dayton apparently decided that the $30,000/yr. pay raises weren’t enough for his cronies. This year, Gov. Dayton threw his cronies a $75,000 bone in the form of golden parachutes. This year, Gov. Dayton pocket vetoed a tax bill that would’ve provided $550,000,000 worth of tax relief for veterans, farmers, students and small businesses.

What’s stunning is that the DFL won’t answer questions about this:

A spokeswoman for the DFL Senate Majority said Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk and Senate State Governments and Veterans Budget Division Chair Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids, said the two legislators would not comment on Dayton’s decision to offer severance to political appointees.

Then there’s this:

It isn’t clear why Sieben, Phillips and Wright were given a severance. Eight other commissioners who also left voluntarily during Dayton’s time in office didn’t receive severance pay.

Apparently, the trick to getting ahead in Minnesota is to make campaign contributions to Gov. Dayton’s campaign, then cash in when he appoints you to a cushy job in his administration. If you’re a blue collar worker, though, you’re SOL with the Dayton administration. They’ll only fight for certain types of white collar workers.

Keep this in mind when you go to the polls: The DFL won’t fight for you if you’re a blue collar worker. They’ll only fight for white collar government workers and the special interests.

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In mid-June, Gov. Dayton pocket vetoed a tax relief bill that would’ve provided tax relief to lots of middle-class people, which I wrote about here. The editorial I quoted got it right when it said “when Gov. Mark Dayton pocket vetoed HF 848 which would’ve provided significant tax relief to the citizens of Minnesota, it sort of felt like something major was lost. Gone was tax relief for veterans, gone was tax relief for small business owners, gone was a tax break for farmers, gone was a tax break for the residents of Houston County who live in Minnesota but work in Wisconsin, gone was the forgiveness of interest paid on debt on the new school building.”

Gov. Dayton didn’t hesitate in vetoing this tax relief for farmers, veterans, small businesses and students. There’s something else that Gov. Dayton didn’t hesitate in doing. Gov. Dayton didn’t hesitate in paying his political appointees huge severance packages. Republicans are demanding that Gov. Dayton rescind those severance packages. Gov. Dayton, through his mouthpiece, has refused:

State law explicitly authorizes severance of up to six months’ salary for senior-level state employees, who make more than 60 percent of the governor’s salary, when they leave state service. We offered severances of up to three months’ salary to three agency heads, as the law expressly permits. The governor made those decisions, and in his judgement the circumstances justified those severances. Gov. Pawlenty used the same statute to authorize severance payments of $73,552 for two senior-level state employees. House Republicans are desperately trying to place a fig leaf over their failure last session to pass the bills that Minnesotans really need: a correctly-written tax bill, statewide building projects, and improved highways, roads, bridges and public transit.

WCCO’s Pat Kessler highlights this important difference:

MMB documents show Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty paid out $75,552 in severance checks to two state workers in 2005 who were not political appointees. One former employee, an administrative law judge, got $26,478. Another, a legislative audit manager, got $47,097.

They weren’t political appointees. They were public employees with lots of time on the job. Speaking of which, “Republicans say the law allows severance only under strict conditions, one of which is 10 years of service before becoming eligible. Republicans say the law allows severance only under strict conditions, one of which is 10 years of service before becoming eligible.”

The moral of this is that Gov. Dayton killed tax relief to farmers, veterans, students buried with student loan debt and small businesses without hesitation. By comparison, he’s fighting hard for illegal severance packages for his political appointees. It’s apparent that Gov. Dayton’s priorities aren’t Minnesota’s priorities.

Finally, it’s worth noting that the DFL legislative leaders, who spout off about all kinds of silly subjects, are silent about this. It’s just more proof that the DFL isn’t the party of the little guy … unless they’re government employees.

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Thus far, people have tiptoed around what the judge ruled last Friday in the lawsuit brought by Rebecca Otto. Ms. Otto is quoted as saying “In the decision, the court granted our motion in part and denied it in part,” Otto said. “As we requested, the court recognized the core constitutional function of the Office of the State Auditor to audit counties. The court also held that the Office of the State Auditor may ‘continue to exercise its constitutional authority to audit counties to pay for such audits.’ We are reviewing the opinion and analyzing our options.”

It would’ve been surprising if the court had ruled that the OSA didn’t have the authority to be the state’s main auditor. This isn’t surprising. That’s as surprising as the judiciary finding that the Secretary of State had the authority to monitor elections. Later, Ms. Otto said this:

“Unfortunately, the district court also permitted counties to hire private CPA firms at their discretion to conduct an “initial audit.” We respectfully disagree with this aspect of the district court’s decision. It will result in an unacceptable diminishment of the protection this constitutional office provides on behalf of the taxpayers of this state.”

The OSA already has given some counties the authority to hire CPA firms to do their audits. With that being the case, Ms. Otto’s intellectual fight is flimsy. She’s essentially arguing that she has the authority to give counties the right to hire CPA firms to perform their audit but that the legislature doesn’t have that authority.

Further complicating matters is that Ms. Otto is essentially arguing that the statutes that have assigned specific responsibilities to the OSA and other statutes assigning specific responsibilities to other constitutional offices are constitutional but that this statute, and this statute alone, is unconstitutional.

If the Minnesota Supreme Court rules in Ms. Otto’s favor, then we’ll have verifiable proof that Gov. Dayton stacked that court with judges that will rule in the DFL’s favor no matter what the Constitution says. Let’s hope that these justices aren’t partisans first and jurists second. Here’s hoping that they’re jurists first, last and only.

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In one of the biggest understatements in St. Cloud School Board history, Superintendent Willie Jett said that “We know we have more listening to do as part of this referendum.”

Actually, they need to start listening. I’m not proposing doing nothing. What I’ve consistently said was that the School Board consistently planned to overbuild. The original plan called for twin schools that each held 1,800 students. Student enrollment as of a year ago was 2,800. I’m not a rocket scientist, just like I’m not a demographer. Still, it doesn’t require a rocket scientist or a demographer to figure out that an aging school that’s getting surrounded by growing schools won’t grow 25-30% in enrollment over the next 25-30 years.

It’s far more likely that Sartell and Sauk Rapids will see significant enrollment growth over the next quarter-century than it is to expect significant enrollment growth for Apollo and Tech HS. The truth is that Jett and the School Board haven’t done any significant listening thus far. They’ve listened to people that they’ve wanted to hear from but they haven’t listened to the average voter. They’ve avoided those voters. Without them, the referendum fails.

If Jett and the School Board don’t learn from last year’s defeat, which appears like they haven’t, they’ll wind up with a defeated referendum and major turnover on the Board. The board needs a shakeup. They’ve become arrogant, which means they’ve stopped listening. It’s time for them to go.

The truth is finally starting to trickle out about why the ISD 742 School Board wants to build a new Tech High School. The truth is that the ISD 742 School Board is planning on renovating Tech. According to the article, the “St. Cloud school district plans to renovate portions of Technical High School to house the district’s administrative offices and welcome center if a school construction bond question passes in November.”


The district, from Superintendent Jett to the School Cartel, insisted that Tech was a mess than couldn’t be renovated. The St. Cloud Education Cartel insists that we have to build a new Tech High School at a cost of $104,500,000 and renovate Apollo at an additional cost of $38,750,000.

What’s insulting is that the Education Cartel insists it’s speaking with the voice of the people. Specifically, Superintendent Willie Jett said “One of the general things (we heard) was ‘we need to know what you’re doing with Tech High School, the future of that.” I’ve gotten dozens of phone calls from people throughout the district. The most frequently asked question I’ve received have asked why we can’t renovate Tech rather than build a new school. The most frequently stated statements have said that they won’t vote for that big of a property tax increase without the District first seriously considering renovating Tech.

This Board has insisted on killing Clark Field, one of the most charming football fields in the state, and killing Tech High School. I wrote this post last fall to highlight the Education Cartel’s arrogance:

Finally, it’s time that Ms. Starling understood that lots of citizens voted against the referendum because the School Board didn’t even have the decency of telling the taxpayers what the new Tech High School would look like. They couldn’t because, according to Barclay Carriar, 80% of the building wouldn’t be designed until after the referendum vote.

That sounds like what a political machine would do. It doesn’t sound like something a citizen-oriented board would do. A citizen-oriented board would start the process over rather than seek input on the plan they’re trying to shove down people’s throats.

The Cartel is scrambling in its attempt to get what it wants after voters emphatically rejected their initial proposal. This proposal is virtually the same proposal, just a little smaller. (The first proposal would’ve cost $167,000,000. This would cost $143,250,000.) Like last year’s referendum, this year’s proposal should be rejected until all options are seriously considered.

Barbara Banaian’s monthly column highlights the arrogance of the St. Cloud School Board while highlighting the fact that the school board hasn’t examined all of the different options available with regard to Tech High School.

If I sound like a broken record on the subject, it’s because the School Board hasn’t changed its plan much. They haven’t explained why a new Tech High School needs to be built. Based on some of the comments by a school board member, it’s apparent that they don’t think they need to justify their actions.

Mrs. Banaian nails the crux of the problem when she wrote “We can all agree they can’t make do with Tech in its current condition. But should we pay to build a new high school? The proposed new Tech is slightly smaller and slightly less expensive than the one rejected in the 2015 vote. The school board and interested parties have invested time and money in a detailed design for a new building. But what have they given for the option to renovate Tech?”

Then Mrs. Banaian drops the hammer:

A scant “cost opinion” based on what contractor R.A. Morton said was “limited information.” “A complete facility assessment would be required to accurately assess the mechanical, electrical and structural conditions of the existing building. An educational assessment would be required to assess the flow, function and viability of educational programming of any renovations completed,” Morton wrote to the board June 2.

When the contractor indicates that they couldn’t do a legitimate estimate because of “limited information”, that’s proof that the School Board isn’t interested in finding out how much a Tech renovation would cost. When the Board cites a “cost opinion”, it should be rejected as worthless.

This is the same problem that Claire VanderEyk and Sarah Murphy ran into when they looked into the situation.

There’s a two-step solution to this situation. The first step is in voting no against the Tech referendum. The other step is in electing members to the school board that will actually address citizens’ questions. The School Board, as currently configured, is nothing more than a rubber stamp for the ‘education community’. We need citizen leadership, not vested special interests. This group should be voted out of office ASAP:

Eliminating the Board’s institutional arrogance is the only way to fix this problem.

Saying that Laura Ingraham isn’t honest isn’t easy for me to say. Still, it’s what I must do after reading her latest pro-Trump spin piece. It isn’t that I disagree with everything in her article. I’d be lying if I said she’s constantly dishonest. Still, I can’t sit silent after she said “I, too, would have preferred an ideal candidate who would unite us and cruise to an easy win over Hillary. Unfortunately, the conservative movement failed to field such a candidate. Much of this is due to the fact that many so-called conservatives, and their enablers in the donor class, wasted their time and money promoting the candidacies of Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, two men who were, and are, utterly unacceptable to almost all actual voters in the Republican Party.”

While there’s no disputing the fact that large parts of the GOP rejected Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, it’s equally true that they were significantly more qualified, and more honest, than the GOP’s presumptive nominee. Further, Trump has been rejected by a large percentage of “actual voters in the Republican Party.” He just wasn’t rejected by as many people as Bush or Rubio.

This paragraph can’t go unquestioned:

First, some NeverTrumpers (like the Bush family) violently disagree with Trump on issues relating to immigration, trade, and foreign policy. In each of these key issues, however, Trump represents the traditional views of conservatives like Ronald Reagan, while the supporters of Bushism are locked into an extremist ideology that makes no sense in theory, and has been a disaster in practice.

That’s breathtakingly dishonest. The only other explanation is that Ms. Ingraham is just stupid. Since she once clerked for Justice Clarence Thomas, it’s a safe bet that she isn’t stupid.

Saying that Trump’s foreign policy is identical to Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy is like saying that an arsonist’s goals are essentially the same as the firefighters’ goals. First, when did President Reagan ask President Gorbachev to squash America’s enemies? When did President Reagan think it was wise to give the Soviet Union free run in the Middle East? When did President Reagan insist that we were getting screwed by other countries? When did President Reagan insist that America couldn’t compete with the world if our taxes were low and our regulations were reasonable?

The answer to these questions is simple: never.

Further, saying that Trump’s foreign policy is virtually identical to President Reagan’s is saying that Trump has carefully thought through what he’d do. How does that square with Trump telling a rally that he’d “bomb the s—” out of ISIS, then telling a national audience during a debate that he’d get President Putin to take ISIS out?

The reality is that Ms. Ingraham isn’t being honest with her readers or with us. That’s a sad thing because she used to be a person of integrity. I wish that woman hadn’t disappeared.

What’s happening in Prior Lake-Savage school district needs to be highlighted to the rest of Minnesota. This article asks 3 important questions, each of which deserve answers. The first question in Hannah Jones’ article asks “Is the district trying to influence students to vote ‘yes’ by giving referendum presentations during the school day?”

What’s appalling is that the answer is “During the senior meeting, much of the time was devoted to issues like prom safety and graduation ceremony preparation, but during the last six minutes or so of the program, Superintendent Teri Staloch introduced herself to the students, congratulated them on their impending graduation and showed them the district’s four-minute video presentation on the upcoming election. She also asked how many students in the audience were 18 and old enough to vote. It may not be typical for the school to show informational material on a referendum election during a student meeting, but that, Lund said, is because it’s not typical to have a referendum question on the ballot during springtime.”

Then there’s this tasty tidbit:

If they happen to meet during a fall election season, Lund said, he will encourage students to vote.

This sounds like the school district’s attempt to railroad high school students into voting for the bonding referendum. The bond is for $129,000,000. If that sounds like it’ll lead to a huge property tax increase, that’s because it’ll lead to a huge property tax increase. Here’s an additional question that the school district hasn’t answered: has the district looked into whether this could be done less expensively? Here’s another question: Has the district just accepted Nexus Solutions’ influence into this project? They’ve got an interest in this, a very big interest in this:

Nexus Solutions will be compensated at 2.25 percent of the total cost of program management, 7.95 percent of the cost of architectural services, 8.95 percent of the cost of engineering services, 2.5 percent of the cost of commissioning services and 5.75 percent of construction management services.

The reason why this question is important is because of how the school board reacted when their contract with Nexus was questioned:

When “Prior Lake-Savage Area School Board, Member Melissa Enger asked to re-examine the Nexus contracts,” the board “tensely shut down the conversation by taking a quorum on the subject. A majority voted to go with the day’s agenda rather than getting into the contract.”

Prior Lake-Savage voters should reject the referendum just on the basis that their school board is attempting to hide important details from making their way into the discussion. Why else would they shut this line of questioning down that quickly?

Another reason to reject this referendum is highlighted by this question in Hannah Jones’ article: Why is the referendum in May? The spin from Superintendent Staloch is insulting:

Spring is a less expected time to hold an election, which some residents have questioned. Staloch said district officials chose May 24 for the date to expedite the construction process, given that the referendum passes.

“Due to the current and projected rise in student enrollment, coupled with the fact that building construction for a new elementary school would take two years, the school board made the decision to place the referendum question before voters as early as possible,” she said. “If voters approve the referendum, a new elementary school would open for the 2018-2019 school year. If we waited until November to place the question before voters, we would not be able to open the new school until 2019-2020.”

Simply put, that’s rubbish. The reason the school board opted for a May 24th vote is to keep turnout as low as possible. They don’t want the vote to happen in November because that means they’d have to deal with lots more voters. They’d prefer keeping turnout low so that those in the ‘education industry’ will outnumber citizens.