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Note for attorneys - In time there will be links embedded in this text to some of the topics this history relates. Much of it could be found with a little looking online (some of it can be found in this unruly website) If you don't see a link to information that would help you prepare a proposal please contact us and we will get a hard copy or PDF to you if we have it. Some of these links will take you outside this website.

A brief history of the Red Plan:

A contentious Duluth school board election in 1997 led to an ongoing discussion of how to deal with Duluth’s excess school capacity in the face of a declining student population. There was general community agreement that some school buildings should be closed in order to divert roughly $1.2 million from building maintenance into classroom operations. The issue of what should be closed pitted elementary schools against secondary schools. Two elementary schools were closed. There was little or no discussion about tearing down and replacing schools. The issue came to be known as the “long range plan.” The discussion changed radically 2006 with the hiring of a new Superintendent and the goal of saving money by closing excess capacity was substituted with the enticing prospect of saving money by building more cost effective and energy efficient schools.

Superintendent Keith Dixon inaugurated a study of the District’s facilities needs. Dr. Dixon had previously been the Superintendent of the Faribault, Minnesota schools where he had overseen a similar though more limited building program. The unexpected and unwanted consequences of Faribault’s construction were such that the community elected school board candidates who pledged to fire Dr. Dixon.

Prior to sending out bids to analyze Duluth’s school facilities and develop a long range plan Dr. Dixon began working with Johnson Controls Inc. We suspect that JCI drafted much of the School District ’s RFP seeking bids to design a “long range plan.” If so this gave JCI an unfair advantage against other bidders. The School Board awarded the bid to JCI. JCI ’s proposal contained a novel provision offering to drop the charge for the development a long range plan if the School Board later selected Johnson Controls to become the resulting building plan’s program manager. This provision gave JCI an unhealthy incentive to expand the scope of the project because it would magnify their project management earnings.

When confronted later about JCI ’s project management earnings Dr. Dixon erroneously lowballed them claiming they would not exceed $4.5 million. It now appears that JCI ’s earnings will exceed $30 million and might even double this. This is just one of numerous instances of Dr. Dixon and/or school board members providing inaccurate or misleading information to the public. Ironically the supposed cost savings through energy efficiency is another such example. The District has now conceded that traffic costs (fuel) will likely increase by $400,000 annually and the plan will install air conditioning into school buildings which will greatly increase energy costs. JCI manufactures chillers.

JCI ’s potential earnings from project management vastly exceed the modest $250,000 they would have been paid for simply designing a building plan. This is a serious but probably legal conflict of interest. A second conflict of interest was written into the project management contract between the school district and JCI . It gave JCI the authority to award bids for construction and equipment including millions of dollars for equipment manufactured by JCI and its subsidiaries such as chillers for air conditioning. This expense has been justified as dehumidification. The contract anticipated $293 million in Red Plan construction costs. The School Board approved this contract without ever laying eyes on it. Copies of this “master agreement” show that the School Board Chair signed an undated document.

JCI developed three plan options “red,” “white,” and “blue.” Each plan’s expense exceeded a quarter billion dollars. Each plan was vastly larger than the District’s existing ten-year deferred maintenance plan which totaled $36.9 million. The District’s plan had identified 414 projects needing attention. JCI’s experts identified 1,600 repairs requiring $206 million in spending. This suspiciously high figure met a state recommendation which encouraged school districts to build new schools should the cost of repair exceed 60% of the cost of a new building.

The recommendation for complete replacement of so many school buildings has come as a surprise to former School Board members who, from 1989 until 2004, poured an additional $30 million into building repair while also passing a $19 million referendum for athletic facilities and implementing a $26 million building program which built new schools and made all schools compliant with state health, safety and ADA requirements. Ironically, two of the new schools built during this period were the first buildings worked on by JCI under the terms of the Red Plan.

Many of the design professionals brought in by JCI to evaluate Duluth’s school facilities were not licensed to do such work in Minnesota. While the Minnesota Board of design professionals (AELSLAGID) investigated these charges it would not publicly release its findings other than to report no cause for concern. How the members of the AELSLAGID Board who's firms would later be hired to work on the Red Plan voted on these decisions is unknown.

Not only did the School Board authorize the JCI program management contract sight unseen they sent the Red Plan’s Review and Comment document to the Minnesota Department of Education before they laid eyes on it.

The key feature of the Red Plan is the freedom it gives the School Board to proceed without a public vote. This is a new found legal authority is predicated on a new interpretation of language found in three overlapping statutes and which was unknown to previous Duluth school boards. In fact, the Duluth legislator who drafted one of these statutes, Rep. Mike Jaros, explained that this use of his statute violated the letter and intent of his legislation. The statute gives the Duluth school board permission to embark on a building program without holding a referendum in order to implement a state mandated integration program. This statute's letter and intent are being subverted because the Red Plan will clearly divide the Duluth schools along racial lines.

The Minnesota Department of Education did not challenge the District’s and Johnson Control’s interpretation of these laws when they approved the building program. It appears that the MDE put great stock in a deeply flawed survey of 300 Duluthians, paid for by JCI, which suggested widespread community support for implementing the Red Plan without a public vote.

It has been difficult to track evidence of a need for the Red Plan because JCI ’s program management contract also gives Johnson Controls “proprietary” ownership of public data. To date the District has withheld this information from Let Duluth Vote, School Board member Gary Glass, and the public by claiming it belongs to Johnson Controls. Recently the Superintendent was adamant that the only data that the District would give Let Duluth Vote was the sketchy information it provided to the Department of Education when it submitted the Red Plan for review and comment. Even though the MDE did grant permission for the District to finance and build much of the Red Plan its staff eagerly sought transportation and desegregation data from Let Duluth Vote which the District did not make available. Unfortunately, Let Duluth Vote did not have access to this information either. We have subsequently learned a few interesting tidbits like the estimated $400,000 increase in bussing costs. We have also learned that the District and JCI never did an energy study of the schools although they have touted energy savings as a major justification for undertake the plan.

Let Duluth Vote is not convinced that Minnesota Statutes really sanction a school building program which undermines a state approved Duluth Integration program. Even if this twisted result turns out to be legal we suspect that the Red Plan may fall afoul of federal civil rights legislation.

Part of the statutory authority being exercised by the District hangs on the school district having the legal authority of a “City of the First Class.” Yet the School District does not have contiguous borders with the City of Duluth. In fact, the majority of the District’s land area, five townships, lies outside Duluth’s perimeter. We doubt that the District has the power to compel taxpayers in its five townships to pay for the Red Plan based on Duluth’s “First Class” status.

The public has been met repeatedly by the Duluth School Board with the curt reply “We were elected to make these decisions.” School Board members are relatively immune from recall. However, evidence of the school administration’s mismanagement, bad faith and incompetence strongly suggest that a case for malfeasance could be made. At the very least Let Duluth Vote intends to call for an audit by the State Auditor.

A petition circulated by Let Duluth Vote and submitted to the Board nearly a year ago was upheld by the State Attorney General who directed the School Board to follow state statutes and prepare an alternative plan for review and comment to the MDE for the smaller building plan described by the petition. To date the District has managed to stall the development of plan or a review and comment report to present to the Dept. of Education. It gives every indication of running out the clock on this until the next construction season begins.

Finally, in reference to our greatest grievance - the loss of our vote - while school bonding referendums are not guaranteed by the Constitution the “equal protection” clause of the 14th amendment requires states to treat its citizens equally. The statutes which buttresses the Red Plan treat citizens of the state’s largest cities as second class citizens denying them the same chance to vote on major school building projects that all other Minnesotans enjoy. The justices of the U.S. Supreme Court have written eloquently that the right to vote is among the most fundamental rights belonging to citizens in our republic. Defending this right successfully would lend much prestige to any attorney representing the people's interests.

There may be other issues which could be pursued than those outlined here.  Let Duluth Vote will not limit itself to the legal issues suggested in this brief history.


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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