Duluth school contractor's 'plum' could reach $33.4 million
Administrators and the public have spent hundreds of hours debating the future of Duluth's public schools. But even as Tuesday's School Board vote that may decide the district's future approaches, a lot of questions about how the district will be...
Administrators and the public have spent hundreds of hours debating the future of Duluth's public schools.
But even as Tuesday's School Board vote that may decide the district's future approaches, a lot of questions about how the district will be affected remain, said community activist Brenda Anderson of Duluth.
Anderson helped organize a panel discussion on the Duluth school district's red consolidation plan at the Duluth Heights Community Club on Sunday night, and some of the issues the four panelists brought out surprised even the two School Board members in the audience.
If the School Board approves any of the plans developed by Johnson Controls of Duluth, the company also will be eligible for a significant chunk of the Phase III construction budget -- contract work that could be worth millions.
For their work in assessing and evaluating the district's needs, Johnson Controls is guaranteed a lump sum of $250,000.
Also according to the contract, Johnson Controls is guaranteed
13 percent of the total cost of any renovations, repairs and remodeling of existing buildings, plus portions of the architectural, engineering and commissioning budgets.
For new construction, the contract awards Johnson Controls 6 percent of the total costs, plus portions of architectural, engineering and commissioning budgets.
If the currently favored $257 million red plan -- which would reduce the number of high schools -- were approved and built, Johnson Controls would be eligible for about $33.4 million in architectural, engineering and other services, according to figures panelist Gary Glass shared during Sunday night's panel discussion.
Glass obtained the contract from the district office on Wednesday and arrived at the $33.4 million figure with the help of "someone who was in a position to understand the implications of the contract" he had shown the document to, he said.
"That's their plum," said Glass, a former senior research scientist with the Environmental Protection Agency in Duluth, and now an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
And it's a plum that, apparently, members of the School Board were not aware of. Board members Laura Condon and Tim Grover, who attended Sunday's panel discussion as audience members, said they were surprised to learn about the guaranteed contract work for Johnson Controls.
Duluth public schools Superintendent Keith Dixon could not be reached for comment Sunday night.
Other panelists, including architect Rachel Wagner of Wagner Zaun Architecture in Duluth, bemoaned the lack of specific information about exactly how and where the estimated $257 million for the red plan would be spent.
Glass has asked to see such specific data but said he has so far been refused. He believes both the school district and Johnson Controls are in violation of the data practices act for those refusals.
And that's exactly the kind of information people want in order to make an informed decision, Wagner said. She and other panelists urged the board to delay Tuesday's vote and give people a chance to see all the information. That's how healthy decisions are made, she said.
"We aren't trying to stop the process, this is the process," Wagner said.
Grover said he felt like the board was going to approve the red plan.
"It does look like the red plan is going to pass," Grover said. "But it's not nearly as certain that the move to not have a referendum is going to pass."
Grover, who has said he probably will vote against the red plan, feels a simmering of discontent both on the board and from the public about possibly not putting the project up for a referendum.
"If it's going to stop, there needs to be a referendum," Condon said. "If the public were to vote on it [the red plan], there might be a different vote."
Retired Duluth public schools teacher Terry Teich of Duluth said she felt like the School Board was eager to adopt an imperfect plan to give the appearance of progress -- even if the results weren't the best for students or staff.
Those at Sunday's meeting urged people with concerns about the red plan to contact School Board members and ask that Tuesday's vote be delayed and the school district provide more specific information about the plan.
JANNA GOERDT covers the communities surrounding Duluth. She can be reached weekdays at (218) 279-5527 or by e-mail at email@example.com .