Dear Board Members:
Although you have heard countless comments on the boundary issue, after last week's three public meetings I feel compelled to speak to why I believe the proposed changes have triggered such a heavy and passionate response. One of the curious things about the proposed plan is its devotion to symmetry: three
corridors, each with the same number of high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools. This symmetry makes perfect sense on paper, but in real Duluth, where population patterns vary, where the geography is unlike that of any other city in the state, where we are preceded by generations of history, where some parts of town are growing while others are shrinking -- in real Duluth, symmetry leads to some of the unintended results that became the
focus of so many comments at the public hearings. These unintended results include busing children away from the nearest open schools and spending money
to convert an elementary school to a middle school at the same time a middle school is being converted to an elementary school. There is little, if any, money to be saved in changing boundaries; considering the turmoil associated with changing boundaries, a district should never lose money for the sake of
For many families, their children's school life defines the family's life. When parents choose a certain neighborhood to live in, it is often (as we
heard) for school considerations. The choice a family makes may be a good choice or a bad choice, but it has the virtue of being their choice. Allowing the affected family to choose where to live is valuable in itself.
Symmetry is a value, too; but not many would argue that it should justify the
government in overriding a family's decision as to where to live. Frankly, I'm surprised that the board hasn't been more sensitive to this issue.
Finally, let me be clear that the issue is not the merits of one school versus another. It is something more dramatic. When a district changes
long-standing boundaries, a child's school life becomes centered in a new community while the remainder of the child's life -- church, friends,
community athletics and arts activities -- remains centered in the old community. Forced boundary changes mandate that families either move or accept living in a neighborhood disconnected by distance and history from the new school. This is what so many of us find difficult. We would never choose to live in one community while our children's lives are centered in a
different community. The propspect of such a result being achieved by government fiat is, I believe, the reason there was such a great
outpouring last week.
Where boundary changes are concerned, each affected neighborhood has its own unique issues. There is, however, a philosophical basis for urging extreme
caution when a plan would promote symmetry as a greater value than a family's desire to keep school and community one.