A column submitted to the Duluth News Tribune and scheduled to appear Aug 2, 2008


Red Plan Critics Here to Stay


Last year the News Tribune published my thoughts on Johnson Controls: “Clever Corporation runs School Board’s Big Decision,” Oct. 27, 2007 .  It prompted an overheated columnist in another Forum Communication’s publication to advise JCI to sue me for slander. Critics of the Red Plan still endure more journalistic skepticism than its supporters and the July 6-7th story on Johnson Controls was no exception. Local design professionals who’ve criticized JCI were labeled a mere “handful.”


This skepticism was evident in June, 2007, after Gary Glass charged that JCI could earn up to $34 million on the Red Plan. The next day the Tribune reported that JCI would only earn $4.5 million or 2% of the project’s cost. Glass was made to look foolish. The Tribune’s story was the proof that my critic relied on to label Glass “reckless” before warning against electing him to the School Board. Superintendent Dixon piled on by repeatedly assuring, “ JCI will not receive one penny more.”  


For the following year $4.5 million remained the Tribune’s last word on JCI ’s compensation. Last Month’s JCI story changed that. It told us that JCI will receive $5.7 million as a program manager and additional payments of up to 15% for every school it works on. Lakewood will earn it 7% "to cover professional service fees." The story also reported JCI ’s successful bid to provide air control for the Lakewood and Stowe Schools . It did not mention that JCI effectively awarded itself these contracts. With 14 more schools JCI has many more contracts to look forward to. JCI ’s final earnings were not estimated but it’s now obvious that Gary Glass has had a much better grasp of JCI ’s potential compensation than Dr. Dixon.  This doesn’t even take into account the long term contracts JCI will get for ongoing maintenance and repair of its equipment. It should be noted that after the failure of two operational referendums Two Harbors had to discontinue their relationship with JCI . The story also failed to mention the $50 -100,000 security system JCI installed in Lowell Elementary with 13 more schools likely to follow.


Here’s another anecdote that went unreported. School Board member Glass asked the Administration in May if JCI had any other contracts. He was told “no.” A skeptical Glass checked with the Duluth Building Inspector and discovered a $2,666,000 JCI permit for Stowe School .

JCI may be a successful company as the Tribune reported but its story lacked perspective. For this we have only to look to Superior ’s School District where Dave Korhonen, the Red Plan’s “Project Executive,” supervised a similar project. I called Dave up after he quit JCI and learned that Superior ’s $47 million project was a bargain compared to the Red Plan. Duluth will pay ten times more per child than Superior paid. In round numbers:

Superior ’s Plan cost $50 million. Wisconsin paid 2/3rds of the cost. Superior ’s share of the cost was $15 million. With 5,000 students Superior paid $3,000 per student. 

The Red Plan’s cost is $300 million.
Minnesota will contribute nothing. Duluth ’s share will be $300 million. With 10,000 students Duluth will pay $30,000 per student.

And Superior had a referendum!

The moment JCI discovered the School Board could avoid a referendum the sky was the limit. (Although the next legislature or a future legal challenge could change this) This may explain why JCI ’s “exhaustive study” had so many glaring omissions:

Transportation - Although it is an energy company JCI never calculated transportation costs. As Mr. Korhonen told me, bussing more kids longer distances to fewer schools will burn more fuel.

Segregation - Even a casual observer can see how the Red Plan will divide Duluth along racial lines. JCI and the District have chosen keep the new boundaries a mystery to avoid controversy over the inevitable segregation they will cause.

Safety - The Red Plan crams half our high school population onto Ordean’s tiny 26 acres. Junior high students don’t drive but high school students do and they will triple Ordean’s enrollment. They will travel to a school on a highway so problematic that MNDOT has been studying it for the past year. They will enter a choked single entrance where they will find less than half the necessary parking.


To their credit the Tribune’s Publisher and Editor recently spent two hours in a spirited discussion with Red Plan critics.  Both gentlemen suggested that the Tribune hold a televised give-and-take between District officials and Red Plan critics. Although this is no substitute for a referendum such a program would offer Duluth voters a chance to make sense of the single biggest school building project in Minnesota history.  It’s not too late for compromise. Only $10 million of the Red Plan’s colossal price tag will have been expended through this summer.