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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Revisited: Lori Grivna and Mounds View Schools - The Truth

In the September 25th edition of the New Brighton Bulletin, a letter was published from a resident of House District 50B alerting other residents of the district to an unpleasant phone call she claimed to have received from a purported pollster which turned out to be a "push poll" slanted against Representative Knuth. We heard this kind of whining about negative campaigning two years ago from the Knuth camp, and let's not be naive, this faux outrage campaign is being orchestrated from inside the Knuth fold. Frankly, I doubt the veracity of the letter writer.

Of course, no one runs negative ads against Knuth's opponent, Lori Grivna, do they? Well, yes they do. In fact, I've received two hit pieces from the DFL in the last two days. And wouldn't you know it, the dimwits at the DFL caucus didn't even bother to come up with anything new for one of the pieces - they simply recycled a hit piece from two years ago, right down to the grainy "mugshot"-like picture of Grivna. Here's the new piece (click to enlarge):

And here's the hit piece from two years ago (click to enlarge):

I guess when their girl Knuth has no accomplishments to speak of down at the legislature, you might as well run out a moldy oldie for another go. Beats thinking.

I blew this garbage out of the water last election cycle. Below is a repost of my takedown. Hey, if they're not going to do any new work, why should I?

Update: Lori Grivna has a short, succinct response to this DFL attack on the frontpage of her website.

Lori Grivna and Mounds View Schools - The Truth

The DFL has put out a hit piece on Lori Grivna attacking her for fiscal mismanagement as a member of the Mounds View School Board. Not surprisingly, this pieces is a mishmash of innuendo, half-truths and misdirection, designed to mislead voters in House District 50B. Frankly, it’s an amateurish attempt to smear a dedicated public servant who has done fine work for the citizens of this community. The lit piece can be easily refuted; I intend to do so here.

Here is the DFL smear piece in question (click to enlarge):

Having some knowledge of the issues that are raised, I found the piece somewhat incoherent on first reading. It seems, however, that the money part of the piece is supposed to be this:
“While Grivna served on the Board, the Mounds View School Board increased property tax levies for three straight years. And after spending your tax dollars on renovations to Pike Lake and Snail Lake Elementary school – she voted to close them.”

“We just can’t trust Lori Grivna with our tax dollars…”
I think we’re supposed to take away this message:
  1. The MVSB raised additional monies for schools by raising the property tax levy. As the piece states, we’re happy to pay more for better schools, right?
  2. A portion of those additional monies was spent renovating Pike Lake and Snail Lake schools.
  3. For some unexplained reason – fiscal mismanagement? incompetence? heartlessness? – Grivna decided to close those newly renovated schools, blowing precious school monies and hurting the district’s students.
Let’s address some of these points and find out why this entire lit piece is pure garbage:


Did the School Board Raise the Property Tax Levy in the Years Specified (2003-2005)?
Yes they did. However, it is important to know two things:
  1. In each year specified, a significant portion of the tax increase was mandated by state statute; the Board members increased the levy to comply with state law.
  2. Most important to know is that these tax levy increases could only be used for school district operations. The district is prevented by law from using such operational levy monies for capital improvements, such as renovations to schools.
The Bottom Line: The implication that property tax levy monies were spent on renovating schools is flat wrong.


Those Schools Were Renovated – Where Did the Money Come From?
In 1999, the School Board went to the voters with a Bond Referendum to renovate a number of environmentally “sick” buildings in the District. The voters approved this referendum.

Here again, it needs to be pointed out that this bond money, by law, could only be used for capital improvements in the District; it could not be used for operations (heating, lighting, busing, salaries, etc.). Funding difficulties in the operations part of the budget could not be filled with money from this bond referendum; likewise, the operations part of the budget could not be tapped for capital improvements. The monies are NOT fungible.
The Bottom Line: The renovations of Pike Lake and Snail Lake schools were funded and underway long before the Mounds View School Board approved increases in the property tax levy in years 2003-2005. The property tax levy monies were completely unrelated to the school renovations.


Why Did the District Close These Newly Renovated Buildings?
After the bond referendum was passed in 1999 and renovation was underway, student enrollment in the district began an unexpected freefall:
  1. At the time that the closings were considered (2004), enrollment had fallen by 1,500 students between 1997 and 2004 (13%). This was the equivalent of the student population of two schools.
  2. Demographers projected that enrollment would fall another 1,300 students between 2004 and 2010.
  3. Only 5 of the 8 elementary schools operating at the time had enrollment high enough to generate the revenue needed to cover their operating costs.
The Bottom Line: Operating eight elementary schools in a district that could be served most efficiently by five schools was deemed wasteful of taxpayer dollars. Closing down underutilized schools was fiscally prudent.


Was the Renovation of These Two Schools All For Nothing?
Absolutely not.
  1. The buildings were the property of the district, much like a person might own their home. Left to fall into disrepair, an asset will decline in value and eventually become a financial liability. By renovating these properties, the district was protecting and enhancing the value of their investments.
  2. These schools were “repurposed” and today are 100% occupied by district staff, students and program use.
  3. Annual gross savings projected from the closure of two elementary schools is estimated at $600,000.
The Bottom Line: Lemons were made into lemonade – declining assets (sick buildings) were turned into appreciating assets. These buildings were then repurposed and put to more efficient use, generating savings for use in addressing ongoing budget difficulties.

If that’s not sound fiscal management of taxpayer dollars, I don’t know what is.


What About Those Republican Legislators That Tried to Prevent the School Closures – What Was That All About?
That’s a real beauty, the DFL applauding Republican legislators and attacking Grivna for bucking leaders of her own party! I’m sure that when Grivna runs for re-election in 2008, the DFL will attack her for NOT bucking her party leaders often enough.

Here’s the deal on this nonsense:

The district owned, and was planning to sell, property worth around $1.7 million. The proceeds of the sale could only be used for capital improvements in the district – state statute prevented the proceeds from being used for ongoing operations.

Republican State Representative Krinke and Republican State Senator Reiter, in an obvious political stunt, sought to change state law to allow the proceeds to be used for operations, specifically to keep Pike Lake and Snail Lake schools open for an additional year. This was fiscally foolish for a number of reasons:
  1. Once spent on operations, the money would be gone. If the money were spent on capital, the district would convert one asset into another and thereby enhance the fiscal health of the district. It’s like taking out a home equity loan to take a vacation to Hawaii versus paying for a new roof. Krinke and Reiter wanted to bask in the political sunlight of “saving” two schools at the cost of damaging the district’s long-term financial health. They showed a complete disregard for the district and its students.
  2. The Krinke/Reiter scheme would have done nothing to address the underlying problem of declining enrollment. Nothing. One year and $1.7 million later, the district would have been right back in the same hard place, facing the same fundamental declining-enrollment problem.
  3. The district had a much better plan for disposal of the property. The Krinke/Reiter personal re-election plan would have short-circuited this plan.
Here’s what ultimately happened:

Rather than dispose of the Snail Lake Landing property in one fell swoop, the district partnered with a developer and sold off individual lots at auction to the tune of $200,000-300,000 each, netting a profit of $6.4 million for the district. That money was turned around to fund capital projects in the district, and to pay down debt service.
The Bottom Line: By bucking politically motivated members of her own party, Lori Grivna helped turn a $1.7 million asset into $6.4 million in assets. I think it deserves to be said again:

If that’s not sound fiscal management of taxpayer dollars, I don’t know what is.


Schools were closed because of declining enrollment - that's a fiscal no brainer (though painful for the community served by those schools). The renovated buildings were put to good use, housing administrative functions that were once carried out in rented facilities - another fiscal masterstroke. District assets were sold off at considerable profit to the district, and Grivna fought off the legislators in her own party who resisted this action - terrific out-of-the-box thinking, and gutsy to boot.

The truth is obvious - Lori Grivna has an excellent record handling taxpayer dollars.


I hope now you understand more clearly the actions taken by Lori Grivna during her time on the School Board. They certainly don’t fit the profile being peddled by the DFL smear machine.

Hey, if you are somewhat confused by the disconnect between the FACTS and the assertions made by DFL attack piece, don’t feel bad; that’s exactly how you should feel, given the false and misleading nature of the DFL attack. They strapped together a number of unrelated issues in an effort to paint Grivna as a fiscal bumbler, and more importantly from their standpoint, to fool voters into not voting for her. If you can’t quite sort it out, well, you’re not supposed to – for the DFL’s purposes, you’re supposed to just react like a dumb fool and reject Grivna.

Tells you a bit about how the DFL regards the voters in House District 50B.

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Blogger Right Hook said...

Nice job (again)!

Wasn't that letter to the editor just ever so convenient as a precursor to the DFL smears hitting the mailboxes?

Hopefully if the GOP once again responds with a hard-hitting piece against the golden girl (at least theirs were factually accurate) without the consent of the Grivna campaign the electorate won't buy the "negative campaigning" bravo sierra the Knuth campaign will surely be peddling like they did the last time around.

Knuth's abysmal record is certainly a target rich environment for someone looking to come up with an ad against her.

10/18/2008 9:50 PM  
Blogger Mark Heuring said...

Good post, TS. It is irritating to see them haul out the same canards every time.

10/19/2008 11:25 PM  

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