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on the way out
Faribault Editorial
Results in
bottom 10 percent
2 million discrepency
no confidence
DumpDixonOld Home Page2
Sleazy and ImmoralOld Home Page2

The Fairbault Story

While several folks have begun inquiring into Dr. Dixon's previous Superintendency we were surprised to see the Duluth News Tribune scooped by the upstart new tabloid the Zenith City Semi Weekly.

See also a selection of stories from the Faribault Newspaper

Dixon to leave Faribault
Faribault Editorial
Dixon Survey Results in
Faribault in bottom 10%
$2 million discrepancy
Levy fails for 2nd time
4-3 vote to keep Dixon
Teachers give Dixon vote of no confidence


Keith Dixon’s dark days in southern Minnesota

Is Duluth poised to repeat Faribault’s mistakes?

Jennifer Martin-Romme

Zenith City Weekly

From 1995 to 2005, Faribault, Minnesota was ripped apart. That was the decade when Dr. Keith Dixon was their superintendent of schools.

“The pain will be there for a long time,” says Sue Nelson, now the chairwoman of Faribault’s school board. She describes a community and a school district bitterly at odds, public meetings that devolved into shouting matches. People left town or yanked their children from the district and sent them to private school.

During that time, Nelson worked for the city, but describes herself as “always very active in the schools.” She was elected to the school board shortly before Dixon left in 2005. “We were instrumental in [his] exodus. By that time, the community was willing to elect anybody who wouldn’t renew his contract…We told him to start looking [for another job].”

In July of that year, he found one - as the superintendent of Duluth’s Independent School District 709.

It’s not as though Faribault didn’t like Keith Dixon personally. “He’s very charismatic,” says Nelson, “very intelligent. Some people loved him.” 

Nor does Nelson suggest that the small town of 20,000, about 30 miles south of the Twin Cities, was blameless in the situation. “We got greedy,” she says, “and went for a larger amount of money over time.” 

In 1995, the Faribault school district passed a referendum to bond for 38 million non-inflation adjusted dollar’s worth of long-range facilities planning that, in some ways, resembles the plan, developed by Johnson Controls, Inc., which was adopted by the Duluth school board on June 19, 2007.

But while Faribault merely added on to their high school, closed two elementary schools, remodeled two more, and built a new one, Duluth’s “Red Plan” is even more ambitious than that - closing one high school, remodeling another, expanding a middle school into a high school, remodeling an alternative school, closing one middle school and building another, revamping a high school into a middle school, closing one elementary school, rebuilding three more, and remodeling the remaining six.

The Red Plan has not come without controversy and, had she been there, the scene at the Duluth Heights Community Center on the evening of September 4 might have felt familiar to Sue Nelson.

“King Dixon has no right to tell you you can’t vote!” someone shouted.

“They’re not named Johnson Controls for nothing!” quipped another.

This was the third public meeting of Let Duluth Vote (LDV), a grassroots activist group that’s attracted about 50 participants since they were organized on August 23 by Harry Welty (a school board candidate for District 2) and Gary Glass (who’s running for an at-large seat). 

LDV opposes bonding for long-range facilities planning without first holding a public referendum, which the school board voted down, 4-to-3, on June 19.

“If you change your school board, there’s a greater chance the Red Plan will be shelved or at least voted upon,” Welty told the September 4 gathering.

Indeed, at times, it was hard to distinguish the advocacy from a campaign stump speech.

“You could look at it that way. But if this were just about the candidates, Tim and I wouldn’t both be doing this,” Deb Anderson said later in a statement to Zenith City Weekly, referring to Tim Grover who is opposing Anderson in the 3rd District school board race. Meanwhile, they work side-by-side in LDV’s efforts to gather signatures on a petition the group hopes will persuade Governor Tim Pawlenty to order a referendum.

LDV holds no formal position on the Red Plan per se. “We are trying hard not to make this Central-against-the-city,” says Welty. ”We’re interested in the right to vote and concerned about the tax structure. This is not a ‘Save Central’ function.”

According to Welty, who has previously served two terms on the school board, the voters passed a $20 million excess levy in 1993 to pay off a $5.5 million debt and to build up a reserve. There’s still 10 percent in the reserve with interest “plowed back into the schools.”

In 1997, the board asked for - and received - a reauthorization of the levy for academic programming. Money was also set aside for public buildings and “we have maintained that excess levy ever since.”

If the Red Plan goes through, Welty fears voters will never approve another reauthorization of those funds and “we’ll have Taj Mahals with crummy programming.”

Which is exactly what Sue Nelson says happened in Faribault. “[Dixon’s] term for it, his catchphrase, was ‘state of the art.’ He just didn’t budget for the operating of those buildings. It was like we built the building and then didn’t have enough money to turn the key. That’s where he failed. We had to go into reserves to operate the buildings.” 

In the end, Faribault had to close another elementary school, re-zone the entire district, and, “we’re still struggling,” says Nelson. “It’s been ten years of financial difficulties.”

Archives of the Faribault Daily News give weight to Harry Welty’s concern that costly renovations could sour voters on the excess levy and pull the plug on funds for academic programming.

At the beginning of the 1999-2000 school year, FDN was reporting a $168,000 budget shortfall, classroom cutbacks, and so many technical problems that, a week before school began, students still didn’t have their class schedules.

That same school year, according to an April 2000 report from the State Legislative Auditor, the Faribault schools fell into statutory operating debt, which, under Minnesota law, a school district enters when it spends in excess of a –2.5 percent unreserved general fund balance.

On May 8, 2000 , the Faribault teachers took an unprecedented vote on Keith Dixon’s job performance and returned to the school board on May 11 with a tally of 66 percent no-confidence.

In 2003, Faribault voters rejected an excess levy for the second year in a row, the district spiraled into a $3.1 million budget shortfall, and residents began calling for Dixon’s resignation, even as he gained a 2.5 percent contractual raise per year that would have brought his annual salary from $110,500 to $122,100.

Faribault residents organized and hired The Center for Community Opinion to poll registered voters about community leadership and the results were released on July 2, 2004. While the City Council received a 64 percent favorable rating; the county board, 72 percent; and the Chamber of Commerce, 82 percent, Dixon’s favorable rating was only 34 percent, with 87 percent rating the financial management of the school district as “average” or “below average.”

According to an FDN in-house editorial dated August 29, 2004, “For the first time, the board members talked candidly about the public’s lack of confidence in current district Superintendent Keith Dixon and the reality that a much-needed levy likely won’t pass as long as Dixon remains with the district…Dixon stated at the meeting that he would not resign and so the board eventually will have to make a major decision: Whether they will buy out Dixon’s contract or allow him to stay on despite how local residents feel.”

They never had to make that decision, of course. After only one more school year, Dixon resigned and came to Duluth. He left Faribault in May 2005 and the referendum for an excess levy passed in November.

“I’ve been watching what’s going on around Duluth,” says Nelson, referring to the Red Plan. “The whole state is watching. What you’re attempting to do, it’s just huge 

“Tread lightly. Be careful. People have a reason to be cautious. [Dixon] may have learned a lot. I hope so. Or he may just be making the same mistakes again. It’s nice to have state-of-the-art, but you better have the money to build them.”

Keith Dixon and representatives of Johnson Controls did not return requests for comment before press time.  


Parts 5 and 6 of Harry Welty's Red Plan Chronicles also detail more information about Faribault.

Part 5 Wai Lee's Story

Part 6  Drawing from the Discard Pile

Dr. Dixon had this to say about his years in Faribault in the March 27th 2008, Reader Weekly:

""What she [a news reporter] didn't ask about are the allegations by Let Duluth Vote that I drove the Faribault school district into the ground. For example, they say I came into Faribault and created a long-range facilities plan, which resulted in the loss of an operating levy.

The fact is, Faribault had created and approved a long-range facilities plan before they hired me, and shortly after I started voters approved an operating levy for the district.( See note) I helped them implement their facilities plan which was on time, on budget and kept people safe. I served Faribault for about 11 years and had four contracts - and still had another year left on my contract when I cant to Duluth. The average tenure for superintendents is less than three years nationally. Like any public official, there were people who supported me and people who disagreed with me and we faced many of the same challenges other school districts across Minnesota face."

* Note - The superintendent is correct. He was hired to implement a building plan not of his design. While an initial operating levy may have passed after his hiring in Faribault two more failed before he came to Duluth.

If you care about Duluth and its schools 
don't put your faith in the Duluth News Tribune
The last word on the Red Plan can be found on Harry Welty's blog:
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You never can tell what you'll find.