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Besieged school districts whack administrators, budgets

PLUS: Governor’s race dynamics, more Central Corridor problems, and the local religous right weighs in on the Haiti “curse” controversy.

St. Paul School Superintendent Valeria Silva, looking at a $28 million deficit and budget cutting as far as the eye can see, lopped three executives jobs from the payroll Tuesday. Gregory A. Patterson files for the Strib, saying, “… Silva requested and received approval from the school board to eliminate the chief of schools, deputy chief operations officer and special assistant to the superintendent positions.”

Simultaneously, the North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale district, planning $7.8 million in budget cutting, sent district managers back to the drawing board looking for “the proper mix” of cuts and drawing down reserves. (Who knew any school district had reserves?) Megan Boldt’s PiPress story notes that “it’s still unclear what might happen to state education funding this legislative session, with lawmakers needing to cut another $1.2 billion from the state budget over the next two years. Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s administration has suggested delaying state aid payments to schools over the next few months to help balance the books. That’s on top of $1.8 billion in aid payments he postponed in July … .”

In a (very) related note, MPR and others report the State Supreme Court has set a March 15 date to hear Gov. Pawlenty’s appeal of the court ruling effectively nullifying the unilateral “unallotment” budgeting process used in cutting two programs.

Sarah Janecek at Politics in Minnesota agrees that the guy to watch in the Republican gubernatorial race is Tom Emmer of Delano, despite Marty Seifert saying he’s the front-runner. (Is there really that much fundraising value in anointing yourself “the front-runner”?) She writes, “It’s not hard to see how Emmer, if he’s really picking up the ‘Ron Paul-ites’ who had gone with [Pat] Anderson, could easily hit that number two spot. He will be releasing a list of endorsers early next week. Besides targeting former Anderson supporters, the Emmer campaign also hopes to increase caucus attendance by galvanizing the ‘St. Thomas Network,’ one of the best college alumni networks in the state.”

Dave Mindeman at the lefty blog mnpACT! has a good breakdown of the gubernatorial dynamics as of today. His conclusion (somewhat surprising for often gloomy liberals) is that there’ll be a Democrat in the Governor’s Mansion next year. Among his points is this: “So far, the Independence Party has not come up with a strong enough name to be a deciding factor. Most of the candidates in the past have had somewhat liberal leanings and siphoned off Democratic votes. Right now, the top prospect is Tom Horner, who will be a bigger drawing card for siphoning off moderate Republicans from the GOP.” He does not address the likelihood of the Democrats handing the nomination to their most dysfunctional candidate.

They never think they’ll get caught. An assistant coach for the White Bear Lake Area girls hockey team was arrested in a prostitution sting. The 45 year-old apparently was lured in via a web ad, according to Mara Gottfried’s story in the PiPress. “A woman who answered the phone at [his] home Monday said they had no comment and hung up,” says her story. We’re thinking there was plenty of “comment” within the coach’s home.

There may be a curse on the Central Corridor LRT project.
After fighting with Bill Kling and MPR, the U of M, and God knows how many business groups up and down University Avenue, the planners now have a lawsuit from the predominantly African-American Rondo community. Dave Orrick’s PiPress story says, “The lawsuit alleges the Metropolitan Council, which is planning to build the roughly $1 billion project, and the Federal Transit Administration, which has thus far approved the plan, haven’t adequately addressed the disproportionate impact the project will have on black-owned businesses, black-member churches and residents of the heart of the city’s black community.” It is interesting, as Orrick points out, that Met Council Chairman Peter Bell’s family was among those Rondo residents displaced by the construction of I-94.

Madeleine Baran’s story for MPR somehow avoids any mention of the project’s dust-up with boss Kling. But does have Bell saying, “that he, ‘cannot envision the budget being large enough to address the wide range of concerns raised by these groups.’ ” No kidding.

Another facet of train talk is a Finance and Commerce piece by Brian Johnson on the firm that handled the Grand Central restoration in New York being brought in to consult on the planned Union Station upgrade, since the place will, at the very least, serve as a terminus for the Central Corridor (if the thing survives the rest of the process), and may … may … be a point of departure some day for high-speed rail.

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“Design work for the estimated $150 million project began in earnest last week. The Ramsey County Regional Rail Authority hopes to have a finalized project scope and guaranteed maximum price by Sept. 28, with construction starting in October and completion in fall 2012.”

If you don’t commute around the southeast metro you may be stunned to learn that they are STILL working on the Wakota Bridge, that always-under-construction I-494 span/bottleneck in South St. Paul. Work has been going on at least as long as it took to build the pyramids at Giza. But a story by Jim Anderson in the Strib says project honchos are promising that absolutely, positively the thing will be finished by the end of July. Barring discovery of another stress fracture, or whatever. “Construction on the replacement bridge began in 2002, but was complicated by the involvement of federal and state agencies, two counties and road improvements in seven cities.” The good news? It’ll keep up with traffic demand for … 20 years.

There’s an amusing story by Andy Birkey at the Minnesota Independent on a local variation on Pat Robertson’s “pact with the devil” thinking regarding Haiti. It seems Adoration Church in Savage has a connection with Minnesota Teen Challenge to do good work down there, but Teen Challenge is getting a bit hinky with the union after the church waded into Robertson’s voodoo logic. ” … [T]he voodoo priests offered to give the country to Satan for 200 years and swore to serve him. On January 1, 1804, the nation of Haiti was born and thus began a new demonic tyranny,” wrote an Adoration leader on the church website.

But wait … it gets even better.
Something called the Minnesota Family Council put up the following deep thoughts from its executive director, John Helmberger. He writes of Haiti’s self-defeating association with retrograde religious thinking … and with no apparent hint of self-awareness or irony: “Why make plans or try to improve yourself or your community if your life and your society are at the mercy of capricious spirits that may negate your efforts on a whim? But the truth is that Haiti needs more than relief. It needs redemption and transformation. Haitians need to be delivered from the false and destructive spirituality that has held them and their nation in bondage for two centuries and made them impervious to change or improvement. They need to be ‘delivered… from the domain of darkness and transferred… to the kingdom of [God’s] beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins’ (Colossians 1:13-14). They need to be ‘transformed by the renewing of [their] minds’ with the truth of the gospel, through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 12:2).” As Birkey notes, this Mobius-like flight of logic was quickly deleted from the Council’s website.