Loren Martell

The newer "Old" Central High School

KBJR had a big breaking story on its 8/8/22 newscast: Old Central had been sold for $8 million!

I always cringe when the local broadcast media tries to cover the school district. This is not the first time KBJR has gotten Old and New Central mixed up.

How in the world can any serious journalist in this town not know which of these buildings, both so important to the city for so long, is which?

In the same breath, however, I want to give some credit to the Duluth News Tribune. First of all, there’s no way in the world the Trib would ever mix up Old and New Central in its reporting. The local newspaper would never do anything THAT boneheaded.  

Also, occasionally, the newspaper actually performs its watchdog role and makes a tiny effort to peer behind the public relations curtain of district operations. In this case, the Trib requested a copy of the purchase agreement signed with the would-be owner of a large section of the NEW (not OLD) Central property. “Would-be” is the proper adjective phrase to apply to that entity – Chester Creek View, LLC – because a signed purchase agreement is not a final sale. Two purchase agreements have already been signed for the property in the past, and both of those would-be purchasers eventually backed out.

The school district refused to make the purchase agreement available to the newspaper before the board met in closed session to discuss the deal. The newspaper requested a copy with the sale price redacted, and the district still refused.  

School districts are notorious, and ours is especially notorious, for being uncooperative with information requests. The situation has not improved in all the years I’ve been dealing with the place, and in fact has only gotten progressively worse. All the district’s attempts at looking open and transparent are done only for that: for looks, for public relations.

Opaque and secretive are the best adjectives for these big-money deals. The whole process is always rigged so the public is cut out from the get-go, given no vote, no say, in anything.

I could not believe how many citizens I found, as I campaigned for a board seat last year, who had NO IDEA what was going on at all. I’ve been standing out on Central Entrance with a Where’s Our Vote? sign again this summer. People stop and ask what I’m doing and almost none of them have any information about what’s being done on the property. Several are shocked and don’t believe me when I tell them the high school is going to be torn down. Even some of the construction workers on the site have been shocked to hear the truth.

The News Tribune made one of its rare attempts to peek behind the district’s PR curtain and got its hand slapped away. The Trib groused and made a little show of being annoyed, but then returned, tail between its legs, to its more natural role as official cheerleader. You’d think, after having its hand slapped away so many times, the newspaper would file a formal complaint with the Department of Administration and start exerting more muscle into its requests. Slim chance of that happening, and an even slimmer chance the school board will keep detailed track of anything.

When I filed my Red Plan report with the State Auditor’s Office in the spring of 2012, change orders to the consolidation plan had already topped $13 million ($13,161,725.34,) with another year and a half of building to go. The Red Plan was a sucker game played on the good citizens of Duluth, and so far everything has been played the same in regard to this expensive, no-vote conclusion to the massive debacle.

We can all rest assured the mainstream media will keep an eye on our government’s shenanigans though, once all the broadcast stations finally manage to figure out which building is Old Central, and which one is New. The “good” news: New Central will soon be a pile of crushed and reeking dust in a landfill, so our savvy local journalists won’t have two buildings to mix up anymore.

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I can’t talk about information wars in Duluth without mentioning former board member Gary Glass. In another school district-related issue – just as in the past – Gary is not getting the credit he deserves for his civic-minded good work and concern for something callously ignored by most of the people in power.

About a year ago, Mr. Glass called me and asked what I knew about all the Central High memorabilia being stored in a museum space in Old Central. That building (again, OLD Central, KBJR,) had already been sold, and Gary said the district’s CFO had dismissed all the archives from Central High’s long history as privately owned artifacts. She had virtually washed the district’s hands of any responsibility for it.

Of course, no school board member seemed to care. When the pressure was on, not a single member of the board with any power to act has ever shown any concern whatsoever about the fate of the school with the longest, most cherished history in the city.

The Central High School Museum Committee was scheduled for a meeting in Old Central within the next few days and I made it a point to show up. I wanted to get a sense of the situation and take one last tour of the school’s iconic tower before the place passed out of the public’s hands.

When I walked into the museum, the committee, seated around a table, all turned and looked at me. Gary wasn’t present, so I explained that I’d spoken to him and voiced to them some of his concerns about what would happen to all the school’s historical artifacts now that the old building was being vacated.

One woman ruffled up her feathers quite peevishly, and rebuked all of Mr. Glass’s concerns in a bitingly sharp voice. One of the other committee members even told her she shouldn’t be treating a member of the public so rudely. She sort of apologized, then continued to stridently maintain that she and her committee had the situation well in hand and Gary Glass and no one else had anything to worry about.

After this brief encounter with the Central High School Museum Committee, I let this part of the Central saga go, because – frankly, I didn’t think anyone in Duluth gave a damn. I was the only person from the public who’d shown up and spoken at the public hearing for the old school’s sale. By the time I had my interaction with the CHSM committee, I’d gotten a pretty strong signal from my fellow citizens that almost no one else in the city cared about the whole thing at all.

But Gary Glass cared. It annoys me no end that people like Gary Glass get run over by the great movers-and-shakers of Duluth. Many people still don’t know the sacrifices Gary made standing up against the senseless folly of the Red Plan, while privately combating cancer’s unrelenting scourge in his own home.

One evening, after a board meeting (still attending meetings after her diagnosis,) Fayth Glass assured me she was “one tough Norwegian.” She put up as valiant an effort as anyone ever has, but Gary’s wife did eventually succumb, to his great sorrow.

I’m a target again, standing out on Central Entrance with my Where’s Our Vote? sign. Throw all the stones you want at me, but don’t vilify Gary Glass or the time he put in on the school board. The whole establishment of the town beat him up without mercy, because he was brave enough to speak the truth.

Gary was speaking the truth again, in his worry about the Central memorabilia. Recently the stuff was put up for sale in a public auction. Left-wing golden boy and former Duluth mayor, Don Ness, commented publicly about the situation right before the auction, describing the sale of century-old artifacts as not being “right.”  

Ness showed up at the auction with some money and tried to rescue some of the artifacts from being lost to antique dealers and others who might not fully recognize the local significance.

Don, who graduated from Central and displayed some concern about the Red Plan’s decimation of the Central tradition, has, in actuality, always been a day late and a dollar short on the issue.

Once again, it was Gary Glass who had the clearest eyes. In the past year, Gary has worked tirelessly to find homes – especially public homes – for these Duluth historical artifacts. Largely due to his effort, the public library now has two copies of all 118 Central yearbooks and the UMD Martin library one copy. Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum (902 East First Street,) however, needs more copies to complete its collection.

Gary has arranged for Marshall Hardware in Lakeside to be the drop-off spot for anyone wishing to donate Central yearbooks. He will pick them up from the store and deliver them to Karpeles, and keep an inventory of all donations. His hope is to make digital copies of them, as well.

When he was on the school board, in 2009, the News Tribune jumped on the Beat-up Gary Glass Bandwagon and accused him of making “a mockery of the electoral process,” when he signed up to run for the 1st district board seat while serving as an at-large member. The paper sneeringly claimed Gary had made the move “because he wanted to cover his hide.”

Let me state unequivocally that Gary Glass is a civic-minded citizen who has never made a mockery of the democratic process. The citizens who mocked the electoral process and democracy in Duluth were the people in power: the same ones who to this day are still stealing our vote, running the public over and covering their hides.

A sad and notable passing

Speaking of boardroom warriors, former board member Art Johnston also recently suffered a tough blow. He lost his long-time soul mate, Jane Bushey. Like Fayth Glass, Jane fought a long, taxing fight against cancer. She was an ISD 709 employee, who worked as a LPN nurse with special ed. students.

As I wrote in a letter to the school board: “Jane was a very sweet woman. She brought several foster children into her home over the years and treated them all lovingly, which of course takes a special kind of person. I want to state on the record that Jane did not deserve the way she was treated. She was harassed on the job because of her association with Art, and he was justified in defending her.”

Most people know something about one of the biggest blowups of all time in Duluth politics: The DFL-endorsed school board majority’s autocratic attempt to toss Mr. Johnston out of his twice-elected board seat. The boardroom had become a volatile cauldron – teeming with putrid, explosive gases from the Red (Fool’s) Plan – but those gases likely would never have exploded the way they did if the other side had not started beating up on the woman who was central to Art Johnston’s heart and life.  

This is the way the harassment began and progressed: Jane Bushey was working as a special ed. nurse in East High. The parents of one of the special ed. kids got into a pretty nasty custody battle and Jane was subpoenaed to testify. She spoke honestly, as she saw the truth, and her testimony favored the child’s mother. The father’s lawyer, Michael Lien, was the husband of the school’s assistant principal, Cheryl Lien, who was Jane Bushey’s boss.  

The first time I met Jane in her and Art’s home, during the initial years of the Red Plan, I said: “I’ve heard that life can get pretty uncomfortable for people who are not viewed as ‘team players’ in the public schools.  Are you at all worried about the position you might find yourself in, because of your relationship with Art and your connection to the stand we’re taking against what they’re doing?”  

Being a trusting and good-hearted soul, Jane just smiled and told me she wasn’t worried at all. Being less trusting, and much less good, I decided I would still worry a bit for her.

The harassment that began of course became concerning to board member Johnston, who felt he should have the right to protect Jane at least as well as any other constituent having some issue with the district.

The anger and resentment that had already built up in the boardroom, however, began channeling like nitroglycerin into a personnel matter. The assistant principal’s emails were redacted in the infamous “Rice Report,” but there’s reason to suspect they may have revealed some mean-spirited retaliation directed at Jane Bushey.

For those who don’t know, the Rice Report was put together by a law firm hired by the district. It was supposed to “investigate” the lurid charges being leveled at Art Johnston by some of his fellow board members.

None of the testimony in the report was taken under oath; the whole thing was largely a compilation of hearsay, innuendo and contradictory gossip. Most of the content that may have been truly revealing was kept hidden from public view.

The district tried to use the report as “evidence” in federal court, but the flimflam document only helped expose the weakness of their arguments.    

The entire blowup, however – the boardroom fight, the federal court hearing – was sparked by what happened to Jane, and no one seemed to be at all aware of that. Jane was transferred out of East High, to Denfeld. Then she was demoted from her nursing duties, to special ed. assistant. Then an attempt was even made to go after her nursing license.

A complaint was filed with the Minnesota Board of Nursing that required Jane to appear for a hearing. The charge against Jane’s competency was found to be completely groundless and dismissed.
Of course Art Johnston was upset by what appeared to be outright harassment of the woman he loved. Name me one man who wouldn’t be.

Nothing is more emotionally traumatic than losing a spouse. My sympathy to Art. On behalf of all of us who knew her: R.I.P. Jane Bushey.