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Submitted to the Duluth Budgeteer 11-25-2002

Itís Not Just Because           

It is no secret that I think closing either Grant or Chester Park schools in order to establish a uniform K-5, 6-8, 9-12 school configuration across Duluth is asinine.

Itís not just because a narrow 5-4 majority (of the School Board)  insists on this plan.

Itís not just because no conclusive research proves that these particular age groupings are better for children.

Itís not just because closing all the remaining ISD 709 elementary schools in a twelve square mile residential area will drive families out leaving the neighborhood a wasteland.

Itís not just because weíre closing a lab school after spending millions to make it one of the most remarkable teaching facilities in the nation and itís not just because UMDís faculty says that Chester Park canít be replicated anywhere else.

Itís not just because we look sneaky keeping Grant School open just long enough to collect a million dollar grant from the state and itís not just because we are apparently indifferent to the remarkable collaborative effort which is making the hardscrabble East Hillside a real community.

Itís not just because the remarkable improvement in our elementary test scores suggests that if the schools ain't broke we oughtnít try to fix them by scrambling their kids all around for some theoretical ideal.

Itís not just because I think that successful elementary schools are more important than the financial efficiency of big elementary schools.

Itís not just because closing the elementaries wonít save enough money to finance real, properly staffed, 6-8 middle schools (which is half the reason for pushing the K-5, 6-8, 9-12 configuration).

Itís not just because some of the Board members from western Duluth keep ticking off all the closed western elementary schools as if to imply that itís about time that eastern Duluth takes a few more hits.

Itís not just because the city-wide ďuniformityĒ of the K-5, 6-8, 9-12 plan overlooks the continuation of a K-8 at Lincoln School in western Duluth .

Itís not just because parents have the option to pull their kids out of our schools and send them elsewhere thus undoing all the savings that supposedly justifies closing these schools.

Itís not just because the Duluth School Board has ignored the obvious need to close a high school for over a decade.

Itís not even because the School Boardís slim majority is being quarterbacked at their unofficial headquarters (in a booth at the Green Mill Restaurant) by a recently defeated school board member.

No, I think the K-5, 6-8, 9-12 plan, which forces us to close Chester Park and Grant, is asinine for all of these reasons.

I usually pride myself for my reasoned approach to problems. But my reason seems to have fallen on deaf ears for the last two years. I am losing confidence in reason. At the last school board meeting I raised my voice a little. If my arguments could only be heard, I told myself, surely the School Board would have second thoughts. Raising my voice did not help. It just left me vulnerable to the accusation that Iím being emotional. Aw Poop!

I first ran for the School Board in 1989. Back then my campaign was centered on saving the much maligned, inner city, Washington Junior High School . I had taught at Washington and it was a great school but a bunch of East Duluth school board members wanted to close it for some greater good. Now it seems that western school board members are aiming at some new greater good at East Duluth ís expense.

For crying out loud, Grant and Chester Park Schools donít come close to representing the eastern Duluth elite that some old-time western Duluthians resent.

All I know is that after 28 years in Duluth Iíve come to hate this cityís East/West animosity. My parents were children when the Morgan Park Steel Plant unionized. I was in high school when its doors were shuttered. I had nothing to do with the extension of I-35 into West Duluth . Like a lot of other people I moved to Duluth long after these things happened but I have become a prisoner of this past. So have the Duluth Schools.

Somehow, reason has taken a back seat in our planning. Last year we created middle school boundaries which traumatized families and left Ordean and Woodland with wildly uneven enrollments. Whatever the imagined virtues of the K-5, 6-8, 9-12 plan its continued implementation will surely be a great boon to all the other alternative schools in Duluth . I guess Iím glad that somebody is going to get something out of our School Board majorityís long range plan.

Harry Welty represents the 2nd District on the Duluth School Board.  

The defeated Board member I refer to wrote a column about the future of the School District shortly before she stepped down. In it she refers to other school board members who grandstand to get their way. She was undoubtedly referring to me.