Coming soon to a school bond issue near you - Hardball politics

I'm surprised that the SD Blogosphere hasn't been jumping all over this one.

On Saturday, the Rapid City Journal ran a story on how opponents of the Meade County School District's proposed bond issue hired an out of state consultant who specializes in killing School Bond measures - Paul Dorr of Ocheyedan, Iowa:
A group of school district residents calling itself Meade 46-1 Citizens Acting for Responsible Education (MCARE) has hired Paul Dorr of Ocheyedan, Iowa, to conduct a campaign against the bond issue. Dorr has a track record of opposing bond issues, among other things, and has said that he has a 90 percent success rate in defeating school funding proposals.

Meade Superintendent James Heinert and school board President Dennis Thuringer called a press conference Friday morning concerning the new group, hoping to keep lines of communication open between the school district and Meade County patrons.
Read the entire story here.

This isn't a story which should be ignored, as it marks Mr. Dorr's first appearance in South Dakota School Bond elections after racking up (what he claims) is a respectable win ratio for his team.

This story got my attention as soon as I read it because I recognize that name from several abortion battles in this state and in the region. Those and more have been chronicled even further in an article in the on-line website "City Pages" out of Minnesota where Dorr has been working on bond issues for some time:

A home-school proponent and political consultant from Ocheyedan, Iowa, Dorr had shown up to battle the school bond referendum in Lyle, as he has throughout the Midwest. To date, Dorr has attempted to defeat 31 school bond initiatives; he has succeeded in 25 of those contests. In Minnesota, he has prevailed in four of his six campaigns.

Dorr refuses to reveal exactly where he's worked in Minnesota, but Norman says Dorr has meddled in referendum issues in Lyle, Blooming Prairie, Wells, St. James, Redwood Falls, and his own district, Lake Crystal Welcome-Memorial. People who've encountered Dorr's campaigns in Iowa and Minnesota describe him as canny, determined, and opportunistic. He is a distant cousin to the Music Man, driving from town to town, painting a picture of failing schools and waste, collecting pay-outs from disgruntled locals who don't want to hand over new taxes.


These skirmishes aside, the bigger battle he's waging is on public education in its totality, an institution he believes should be dismantled and scrapped.

Dorr has grandstanded for a variety of causes over the years. As an anti-abortion activist, he founded the Rescue the Perishing Christian Family Ministry. He once argued that Budweiser was encouraging bestiality. And in 2000, he protested a play at Northwestern College, a conservative Christian school in Orange City, Iowa, because he said it promoted "homosexual sin."


For 10 years, Paul Dorr was part owner of a community bank in Ocheyedan. After the bank was sold, he worked as a bank turn-around and stocks-acquisition consultant throughout the Midwest. He quit, he says, when he realized the harm of our "fiat-money" system--a term used to refer to a currency not backed by gold deposits.

"An economy whose money system is unhinged from any fixed standard is bound to bury itself and its host country in debt and destructive inflation," he says.


Three and a half years ago, Dorr began to devote himself nearly full-time to defeating school bond referendums. He started Dorr Consulting (now Copperhead Consulting Services) and barnstormed Iowa, working in Tama, Gilbert, Iowa City, Independence, and other towns.

In some cases, Dorr becomes involved in local school issues by calling on county auditors and asking if a bond referendum will be proposed in the near future. He'll also advertise his services in small-town newspapers. And as he's become more known for his work, the anti-bond committees composed of farmers and local business people have begun to contact him directly.

Read the extensive story here. Minnesota Public Radio has also chronicled Dorr's activism in Minnesota school bond races:

Les Norman, superintendent of the Lake Crystal-Welcome-Memorial school district, fought off an attack led by Dorr last September.

"He does distort information and he has no qualms about that," Norman says. "You have to understand that this is an individual who's goal is to not have public education. He wants to see the demise of public education, period. He wants to see that happen through defeating bond referendums."

Norman says his small rural school district near Mankato was able to pass its bond referendum by quickly responding to the misinformation spread by the opposition.

Paul Dorr declined to comment for this story, saying only that he doesn't do interviews while working on a campaign.

In Orono, Dorr's involvement to this point has been largely invisible. Still, he's caused considerable concern among referendum supporters.

Beth Johnson, chairwoman of the Orono "Vote Yes" Committee, is fearful of an all out assault in the final days of the campaign.

"I'm outraged," Johnson says. "I'm concerned that he is going to come into our community and distort facts, take a tiny bit of the truth and twist it and cause divisiveness in the community and pack his bags and move on."

There's nothing unusual about a consultant helping out on a school referendum. It's just rare when they work for the opposition. Paul Dorr is changing the rules each time he shows up in another Minnesota school district. Mike Wigley says hiring Dorr helped even the playing field in Orono.

Read that all here.

Dorr's campaigns have even gotten the attention of his state's flagship newspaper, the Des Moines Register:
Five times West Central Valley school officials have asked the district's voters to borrow millions for a new high school. Five times the answer has been no.

A sixth bond referendum is set for Tuesday, and the result could hinge on one man.

They call him the "bond buster."

"I'm not the issue," said Paul Dorr, an Ocheyedan activist and home-school father of 11 who has become well known for his work in the Midwest to defeat school bond issues. "The other side in these campaigns often want to make me the issue. The issue is rising taxes and declining test scores."


"It's a personal, mudslinging campaign. It's very nasty," said Lisa Waddell, the school district's business manager and school board secretary. "The blogs, three different ones, in our area that have been horrible about some of the things being said."
Read that all here.

By gaining a foothold in South Dakota Bond issue elections, Dorr might be intentionally or unintentionally ratcheting up the politicization of school bond issues to a degree that South Dakotans rarely experience.

Normally bond issues run the gamut from contested to quite benign, as the recent school bond vote in the city of Brookings was. But with a consultant (who has had some success) actively seeking measures to defeat and playing hardball, such campaigns are bound to pit neighbor against neighbor in a free-for-all usually only witnessed in top level partisan policial matches.

Watch for his involvement to act as a huge lightning rod in that bond measure, with the only question remaining for the rest of us being; Whether the Dorr driven bond storm will quickly dissapate or spread across the rest of South Dakota.


Anonymous said…
I'm not sure how I feel about this, but I DO know that the schools usually have their consultants, too. They just aren't labeled as such. The design group hired for the new school will not only design the school, but also work with the district to put out information-propaganda to get the bond passed. I saw that happen in our town, and my father was on the school board in another town. He actually place ads refuting the information the school put out because it was not being truthful with the taxpayers. He was not against a new school, but felt the people should make their decisions based on actual facts.
Douglas said…
This guy may generate a lot of unnecessary guilt by association, but, taxpayers who don't like to see money wasted on mindless monument building to house a plaque with school board and architects and bond writers names on them also need somebody experienced with the games architects play to extract their percentage.

School board that have failed to maintain old buildings expect taxpayers to give them new facilities they can let deteriorate.

Some good schools in old buildings turn into mediocre schools in new buildings because the construction throws the system into a tizzy and then leaves them short on funds for actual education even though the jocks have a new auditiorum or gym to play in.
Anonymous said…
Anyone feel a bit cynical, here? Good god. These are schools. Drive into a town, look at the school, and say to yourself, "If that was a bank, would I put my money in there."

If the answer is no, then it's time for a new school.

Let the building deterioriate? Good god. If the district levies at the maximum to maintain the building, people bitch.

Come to think of it, anytime taxes are concerned, people bitch.

Monuments. PPPBBBTTT. When you need a new building, you build so you don't have to build again for a while. School bond elections don't happen that often. Build for now, and build for the future.

Good god. You think the bond writers are in it for the glory on a plaque? Seriously. How crotchety can you be?

Your last point about not having enough funds for education shows how little you know about our school system. Separate levies, smart guy.

Monument. PBBBBTTT.
Anonymous said…
Your post would be far most interesting to read if you left out the profanity.

As usual when someone has something with little credibility to say they feel that they must enhance it by adding God's name.

Does it make you feel more powerful??
Anonymous said…
7:43 - Agree with me now?

Anyone feel a bit cynical, here? Good GRIEF. These are schools. Drive into a town, look at the school, and say to yourself, "If that was a bank, would I put my money in there."

If the answer is no, then it's time for a new school.

Let the building deterioriate? Good GRIEF. If the district levies at the maximum to maintain the building, people COMPLAIN.

Come to think of it, anytime taxes are concerned, people COMPLAIN.

Monuments. PPPBBBTTT. When you need a new building, you build so you don't have to build again for a while. School bond elections don't happen that often. Build for now, and build for the future.

Good GRIEF. You think the bond writers are in it for the glory on a plaque? Seriously. How crotchety can you be?

Your last point about not having enough funds for education shows how little you know about our school system. Separate levies, smart guy.

Monument. PBBBBTTT.
Anonymous said…
This bond issue lost last year because the state legislature was wise enough to require a 60% yes vote for tax increases to pass. It didn't make it. So now we have the Meade Co. education bureaucracy attempting to push it on us again, instead of looking at alternatives. PP, what was the situation at that district in Minn.?, "This is the 6th time...." That's what they do.

Local taxpayers hired some consulting help?? More power to them. It means the taxpaying public is sick of being bullied by the entrenched education bureaucracy and is organizing. Now perhaps they can counter the Barbra Streisand the edu. bureaucracy "consultants" will be fielding. I pass gas every time I see Warton or some other edu. bureaucrat say, with a straight face, things like "enrollment is dropping, so we need more money." or "the governor is a hero cause he got us more money."

My taxes go up 16%. Is education 16% better??...nope and it just gets worse. otherwise, with the cash blown in the last 20 years, we should be graduating Einsteins from high school. Public education needs serious basic fundamental reform and the bureaucrats need to stop resisting it. It's either that or complete privatization of education.
Anonymous said…
Your taxes go up 16%. How much is that, exactly? I'd bet it's not a hellova lot. I bet you wouldn't even miss it.

Let's see, selfish landowner who already pays the lowest taxes of any state in the nation...


Kids that need a building to study in.


Hey hey, ho, ho... this pity party's got to go! Hey hey! Ho ho!

Taxpayers in Belle Fourche are revolting because they want to remove asbestos from the school building.


The buildings are 50 years old. And, they won't pass a 4 million dollar bond issue.


Where are your kids? Did they go to the public schools? Where are they now? You were happy to let them go through the system free of charge, and for that, you need to pay your taxes. That's all. Just pay your taxes.

People did it before you, and people will do it after you.

They aren't building palaces. They are building buildings.

Just quit crying about your taxes already. They're low. Really low. Lowest in the nation. No one pays less than you. And, in fact, we get other people's tax money - the libs from New York and California pay to support our economy.

It's just tired, you know. Just the same tired argument. Keep my taxes low. Keep my taxes low. Oh, and make sure and keep my taxes low.

They're low. They aren't going to go much higher because some 5-year olds need a safe building. They'll still be the lowest in the nation.

Try, for once, to stop thinking about yourself. Public education is a service. It's like the highway system, only, it benefits kids. Kids need all the leg up they can get.

Oh, and compared to you, kids are Einstein these days. Much smarter. Much more capable. In fact, half the problem in schools is that they can't make them challenging enough.

Of course, you'd need some more money to do that.

And we all know where that leads.
Anonymous said…
This guys is little more than a Henry Hill character, fleecing the people he purports to be there to help.

His specialty is getting paid money to help kill off small, frankly dying districts that, for the most part, can't support an independent school district to begin with. They can't afford new facilities and fear consolidation with healthier districts. Look at the list of towns he's "helped" in MN, hardly boomtowns. He's just there to pick over the bones.

The folks in Meade County are caught between the rocks of the Hills and the hard prairie. The drought is killing the ranch industry and poor infrastructure is pushing all the development into Pennington and Lawrence Counties, putting Meade even further behind in tax base growth necessary to support basic needs.

This guy is hardly equipped to help in the larger issue.
Douglas said…
Every assertion by builder promoters should be questioned. Local building project in Winner was pushed as some project by the hooty-tooty women's group who thought it would be a nice project. The first dragged in a USD education professor who projected large increases in student enrollment. That raised a lot of questions in my mind right away, there were a lot of people as old as we were and older and not a lot of young people sticking around to have kids here.

Then they promoted a building on a location with a ridge of Pierre Shale under it. It would have split in half without hundreds of thousands in extra foundations. It would have added to the traffic already miserable around the high school and hospital. The architect did not know how many class rooms they were replacing or even how many rooms were in the new building.

I found out a couple years later that the design was driven by the maximum amount that could be obtained by lease purchase with a 50% vote instead of a 60% vote.

The school board member then loaded up with future sellers of carpet and concrete and started in a new project. They hired a Superintendent who sold himself as a "builder". He always talked about "the child" and actually didn't give a flying rat's rear for kids. His "dissertation" was written on adult education in a nursing home.

He was a "portable professional" who left us with a mess and new tax liability and moved on to his next building project.

The architects pushed a plan they had used in Nebraska. Had they been able to turn it 90 degrees, it might have made sense on the site.

These inane poorly planned, poorly conceived building projects are the equivalent of a few dozen or hundred people dying in the community for however long it takes to pay of the bonds or leases. They are sold as an economic boon however.

Finally, we now have about half as many students in middle school now as were here before the buildings were built.

One of the arguments against the old school was supposed to be that the rooms were too small. The rooms in the new building were actually smaller and had last black board space. The halls were so narrow by the lockers, the kids were banging into each others backs.

A teacher recently noticed the concrete slab was sinking and floor was moving away from base trim.

There was a much better option available which would have saved enough money in staff to essentially pay off the bond. The board was locked into a mediocre idea and viewed any suggestions for change as a personal insult.

These projects are often driven by people with very fragile egos who associate personally with the project.

I talked to a local businessman and asked how his steel building had done. Well, he said it has been up for about 40 years and we have only had one leak in the roof, If you look over there you can see a yellow ceiling tile...

So I asked, "Why don't we just build a steel building with no brick work for a school?

His response, "You don't want your kids going to school in a pole shed do you?

If I knew more about other projects around the state, I could probably write a book on the lunacy that passes for logic and truth on some of these building projects.
Anonymous said…
Have you ever served on a school board, Douglas? If not, you need to take your turn, considering all of the knowledge you purport to have.

While some of what you say might be accurate, my experience with school boards and building projects has been positive. Serving on a school board is a difficult, time-consuming, thankless job. I'm amazed that anyone is willing to serve anymore, considering all of the guff they have to take from the public.

We no longer have children in school, and we also own land in a neighboring school district, but we don't complain about paying the taxes. I can't think of a better place to put our money than for something that will benefit the children who hold the future of our nation, state and community in their hands.

As for Paul Dorr, I saw the damage he did to a school bond issue in Iowa. He and his wife home school their 11 kids and then he goes around taking money to prevent other kids from having a safe building in which to attend school.

Dorr is a former half owner of an Iowa community bank who claims that he resigned when he "realized the true harm of our fiat-money system." It would be interesting to hear the other side of that story....

Some of you might be interested to know that this Paul Dorr is the brother of Tom Dorr, the Undersecretary for Rural Development in the U.S. Agriculture Department. Tom Dorr is the one who had difficulty gaining senate confirmation until after he apologized for his violation of farm subsidy rules and racial slurs.

Tom Dorr had previously acknowledged that he structured his family’s farm interests at Marcus, Iowa, to avoid a cap on the subsidies that individual producers can receive. He denied any wrongdoing, but the Dorr family trusts were forced to repay the government $34,000.
Douglas said…
Dorr and family may be corrupt and have other agendas. I am not defending him, but the same attacks can be made on some of the supporters of school building projects.

I am glad some people don't mind paying 30 to 50 percent of their income off farm land in property taxes, but I would prefer an income tax that considered weather and price conditions.

And, there was nothing in my previous post that was not true.

There are more facts on the project, but they are not necessary to indicate that school projects are not all gift horses whose mouths should not be examined. They may have more in common with Trojan horses.

And that is enough of the mixed and mashed metaphors or simmilies for now.
caheidelberger said…
Be a yokel: buy local! That slogan should apply to politics as much as to potatoes. When either side in a local election hires outisde consultants, they send perfectly good revenue out of the community and mingle their arguments with outsiders' skewed agendae. Madison ("Discover the Unexpected!"TM) is holding a bond election Tuesday for a new $5.83-million gym. I'm voting against it, but if Mr. Dorr came peddling his profiteering propaganda, I'd tell him to hit the road. I want to have this argument with my friends and neighbors who will have to deal with the consequences of the vote. Politics should be civil discourse that draws a community together, not an opportunity for outsiders to make a profit by further tearing a community apart.
Anonymous said…
As a school architect that has practiced in several states over a 28 year period it is certainly interesting to see all these viewpoints on new schools. I won't argue that some school projects are ill conceived and not as well planned as they should be. I've been involved in projects that ranged from both ends of the spectrum. Speaking from my perspective, most of the stakeholders that promote new schools do it from a sincere desire to have the best possible learning environment for the kids. None of the schools I have been involved with could be classified as "Monuments" to someones ego. Just the opposite, most school projects are under funded to the degree that they barely meet the accepted criteria for a quality building. Most districts would do well to carefully consider whether they can can build the level of facility that young learners deserve. If the funding isn't there, the best course is to wait until it is or consider remodeling existing buildings. I worked with a large district in the Northwest that would build fewer but higher quality schools. Newer standards and, quite often, limited funding produces buildings that have smaller clasrooms than older buildings. Major pluses that do result though are better lighting, updated technology, higher energy efficiency (typically old schools are huge energy hogs), better security and fire safety, better acoustics and more flexibility.
Key to any well conceived and well designed school is good planning that involves the whole community. Also key is an architect that really knows educational design and how to maximize the bang for the buck that you get from efficient construction methods and materials. As far as the fee structure that architects get, typically, because of the high degree of competitiveness in the schoolo market, fees are less than other types of buildings and the level of service is higher. One firm I worked at was thinking of not doing anymore school work because the profit margin was too low. I do it because I am passionate that kids and communities deserve and benefit from good schools. It elevates the level of education and inspiration and that cannot be lost in all this shuffle over costs and taxes.
Anonymous said…
The voters of Sturgis and Meade 46-1 School District have spoken, about as loudly as a Harley at full throttle - NO! 63% said No, with a 53% increase in voter turnout from last October's election. Now sit back and watch as the people who fiddle much of their lives away on blogs start ridiculing and mocking the working families of Sturgis.
Anonymous said…
I don't think any person of reason would care to mock the families of Sturgis. I love how you attempt to polarize us into "working" families and "others". Who are these evil others that don't seem to work in your eyes and just want to raise taxes to build monuments?
I know many people in every level of socio-economic status that support schools. I seem to recall a fellow in Germany in years past that used the same kind of approach that you do Mr. Dorr. Propaganda is powerful tool.....
Anonymous said…
Paul Dorr is simply put... a political whore. Pay him & he will do your dirty work. PAUL DORR -- POLITCAL WHORE at your service. Don't ask about his background, cause you don't want to know, right?

Thanks for creating hard feelings in another community. We appreciate your efforts and hope the money you collected from the hills area is well spent on your smearing campaign.
Anonymous said…
Thank God for Paul Dorr. What many of you are ignorant about or refuse to acknowledge is that the Pro Bond folks hire experts to sell the bond issue. What's the difference? There is none. The Teachers Union is just ticked that someone finally has stepped up to stop their tactics. Too bad, deal with it. It's a free country. For far too long the NEA has had there way with the American taxpayer. It's about time someone like Paul Dorr stood up to them and showed local folks how to fight back.

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