Dear Harry,

This school situation really gets under a person's skin. Even now, it makes me angry.

Fortunately now I can say what I think. Below is a piece I wrote for the Ripsaw. I don't know if they'll have room in next week's issue, but I thought you'd be interested. It's long, but this isn't an easy situation. I like the idea of this being a challenge. The one high school plan offers all the excitement of building a new school without the cost. Everyone gets involved and incorporates pieces of all the schools.

We'll see what people think.

Do you have xxxxxx's e-mail address?

Anne Bretts

BusinessNorth

 

Wake up, Duluth. Itís time to have one high school.

I know. I know. The only things in Duluth more pervasive than zebra

mussels are politicians and solutions for the Duluth School Districtís

chronic problems.

I canít do anything about the politicians. But give me a couple of

minutes on this school thing before you head for the personal ads. At

least youíll have something new to talk to the protesters about while

youíre smoking on your way into your favorite coffee shop.

There really is a way to solve the Solomon-like dilemma the Duluth

School Board faces over which families to sacrifice for the sake of

the others. Like Solomon, board members must listen to the parents,

but must do what really is best for children.

To appease parents 20 years ago Morgan Park High School became a

junior high instead of an elementary school. It also became the reason

todayís Piedmont parents are screaming about driving to Morgan Park

instead of to a more centrally located building.

Itís time to try something new.

Itís time to create one secondary school ó on three campuses.

It wonít save all the money needed, but it goes a long way by

optimizing class scheduling, staff training, activities and resources.

And, in the one thing that seems to matter in this town, it instantly

creates a kick-ass hockey program that will let students wear their

letter jackets with pride as they stroll through the Mall of America.

Yes, we can have our cake and eat it, too. (Sorry, I couldnít help

myself.)

Seriously, this plan lets everyone win, and sets up the district for

the future, instead of continuing a crisis that by my calculations has

lasted far more than 20 years. Thatís not a crisis, itís political

hypochondria. Things are tough, but not that tough.

When I moved here 13 years ago from the Chicago area, I spent my first

years as a reporter covering the last round of school closings and

researching earlier ones ó and I have waited for this day ever since.

I was blown away then by the bogus enrollment projections and blatant

political pressure. I was blown away by the intolerance between

indistinguishable groups of blonde, blue-eyed Midwesterners.

Most of all, I was blown away by school officials who freely admitted

they were making bad decisions but didnít have the stomach for the

threats and ugliness they endured when they spoke their true feelings.

The hard fact is that 10 years ago, there was no school district in

Minnesota the size of Duluth with three public high schools, let alone

all the public and private choices here.

There still isnít.

As long as people see change as winning and losing, the stalemate will

continue.

Instead, take all the students in grades seven through 12 and send

them to East for the first two years, Denfeld for the second two years

and Central for the final two years. Hang all the old banners and

school colors from the rafters of all the buildings, create a hall of

fame in each one and then have everyone who cares help create a snappy

new team logo, school song, and most importantly, new programs.

Think of it.

Duluth High School.

The Zeniths, maybe. The Dylans. The Renegades. The Bongs. Whatever.

Fights over boundaries disappear, along with artificially engineered

economic, racial and ethnic balances. Neighbors of East regain their

parking places and lose tons of litter.

Parking around Denfeld is easier, yet freshmen and sophomores still

are old enough to have and spend money, maintaining their economic

impact in the neighborhoodbusiness district.

Juniors and seniors are brought together in the building with the

largest campus, the most advanced technical facilities ó and a parking

area that can be supervised and doesnít impose on anyone.

At last, parents can buy the right house, not the right neighborhood.

All the families in the district share the same facilities, teaching

staff and driving inconveniences. The rest of us are finally spared

the pointless and mean-spirited arguments over whose academic programs

are the best, whose students are smartest, whose grades are the most

inflated and whose halls are safest. Itís put up or shut up.

Where are the savings? Having all the students in two grades in the

same building allows the most flexibility and efficiency in

scheduling, planning and staff training. Not focusing so much money on

travel and other expenses involved in three varsity sports and

academic programs can be used to build one good one and an array of

less expensive intramural and life activities. Imagine high school

kayaking, rock climbing and reggae music. Teachers splitting time

between two or three buildings are paid for teaching, not driving.

Security and discipline costs decrease. Bus schedules are simplified.

Library and other redundancies are eliminated.

Now, get rid of the seven-period day and offer the six periods the

state actually pays the district to provide. Create a system to offer

the extra advanced classes for the students who really need to have

them and charge tuition, with scholarships for kids who canít afford

them. If the district doesnít want to do it, let the universities,

community colleges or Edison do it on campus.

Grade schools go back to grades kindergarten through sixth grade, or

in some cases primary and intermediate configurations. Create a triage

system to work with the cityís comprehensive plan. Decide the most

important locations for family neighborhoods and make them the

priority for school locations. Maybe a new school is built and another

turned into housing over time to reflect the best way to achieve the

goals. Maybe schools are created to include housing, health care,

community programs and businesses.

Any plan must be tied to enrollment and reviewed each year with the

budget. Everyone knows the building at the bottom of the list and the

enrollment level that will trigger a closing. No surprises.

Then, get the budget back on track, quit crying wolf and get a life.

At no time in the last week have any of the discussions touched on how

the cost of making families happy will be balanced against equally

legitimate needs for more public transportation, parks, roads, judges,

housing, you name it. And the fact that everyone at the hearings

opposed the closings only means that people who support the closings

donít want to deal with the hassle of trying to have a discussion in

the middle of a pep rally.

The comprehensive planning process is a good forum to have all the

interest groups in the community talk about whatís best for everyone.

So letís quit saying no and start saying how.

Soon, normal life will go on.

Even with one high school, senior boys still will find a way to date

freshman girls.

Some kids will go to college and some wonít.

A few will fight in the halls.

But if weíre lucky, we wonít have to watch their parents do the same.

 

Tagline:

Anne Bretts is managing editor of BusinessNorth, a regional business publication, and BusinessNorth.com, its online edition. Like Andrew Slade, she is expressing her own views, not those of her employer. Unlike Andrew Slade, she will not lose her job. Her publisher respects her right to free speech.

And he knows sheís got the computers programmed to crash if she leaves.