FIGHTís Dirty Hand

I wrote this at Howie Hanson's request for the upcoming Twin Ports People. Check it out at the newstand.

Today was the day that the FIGHT organization lost itsí credibility. Once a spokesmen for fiscal prudence it has become the cityís self-appointed school board basher. FIGHTís recent ads were a desperate attempt to encourage people to run for the school board. They didnít target the City Council or County Board. They just bashed the School Board. Yet despite two days of full-page indictments of the Board there will be three uncontested seats for the first time in a memory. As the Chairman for my dear friend Mary Cameronís campaign I will be championing the only challenger that any of the school board incumbents face. How, one must ask, did those over-inflated indictments fail to attract candidates. The answer is simple. The community knows our jobs are tough. They know weíve been prudent. They know weíre making tough decisions. They wouldnít take our jobs for all the money in the world.

Iíll admit I have had one long running grievance against the Board which has been echoed by FIGHT. It was serious enough for me to hope for some additional opposition but to my amazement the issue vanished at tonightís School Board meeting. On a 7-2 vote the Board made it clear that when we make our decision regarding future facilities we will look at the possibility of closing secondary schools instead of elementary schools. We may not ultimately make this decision but now, at least, we will have a real discussion on the subject. This can be little solace to FIGHT.

Ironically, this year would have been a great year to run for the school board. Angry parents buzzed like hornetís just months ago. These were just the sort of people who might have run against the incumbents but they didnít file. If anything the FIGHT ads probably created more sympathy for the School Board than ire.

FIGHT says that two cycles of settlements have put us in debt. This is bunk. The first of those two contracts was accepted by the Board when fiscally conservative members held the majority including Dr. George Balach, Tim Grover, Mary Glass-Leblanc, Mary Cameron and me, Harry Welty. Fiscal responsibility hasnít come easy for some of our newer members but we have passed prudent budgets.

FIGHT implies wrongheadedly, that we have dipped into the ten-percent reserve that was established back in the fiscally conservative era. NO! The current budget keeps the ten- percent reserve inviolate! In the previous two budgets we allowed for up to half a million dollars of deficit spending but our successful management erased both of those deficits before the year was out. Thereís a good chance we will be able to avoid a deficit again this year.

It is true that our most recent budget would have required us to deficit spend by $1.5 million dollars but that was before we knew what the legislature would do. It turns out that we will receive significant additional revenue. Our new projected deficit is now a mere quarter of a million dollars and as before this debt may not materialize. It could all depend on the price of energy, which we can not control.

Part of FIGHTís problem is attitude. Much of what they say is correct but they are so pugnacious. They look more like the Hulk than his mild mannered alter ego David Banner. When I was first elected I was quoted as saying that teacher compensation was "about right." I still think so. But FIGHT makes teachers sound like money-grubbing goldbricks. Give me a break! Teaching is not a glamorous job. Its not the highest paid profession. Yes, it does have the summer off, state backed retirement benefits, and other nice benefits but lets get real. Two-thirds of the people who go in to teaching donít last. Yes, teacherís unions are pushy. Iíve personally feuded with our local unionís leadership. But pushy union leaders have a job to do and they do it well. If their leaders didnít push hard they would be replaced by other leaders who would. My challenge has been to help communicate the fact that our Board can only be pushed so far. That hasnít always made me popular but unlike FIGHT Iíve never impugned the motives of my adversaries.

Fightís call for the removal of people with conflicts of interests is an old one. The law clearly permits people who have union connections to run for office. The public has been warned about these connections in the past but has chosen to elect these people anyway. By all means FIGHT is within its rights to warn us about the implications of these affiliations but their call for resignations is asinine.

One of the ironies of the FIGHT manifesto is that its scattershot lambastes Bob Mars, as good a fiscal conservative as you could hope to find on the School Board. While Bob has admitted to having contributed to FIGHT in the past he says bluntly that on this budget FIGHT is simply wrong. And get this.... Back in 1993, in FIGHTís prime, Bob Mars bailed it out of financial trouble and persuaded it to support the first of two excess levy referendums that helped rescue the Duluth School District. FIGHT has taken credit for helping pass this godsend but it was Bob Mars who put them on the right track.

FIGHT has managed to throw a lot of cow manure against the side of the barn and a little of it seems to have stuck. But FIGHT will have to wash its hands very thoroughly before Iím willing to shake itsí hand again.