Welty replies to the Chamber
1. Do you support the Edison Project? Do you support possible future expansions?
Yes. I have already helped make it possible for Edison to expand its program next year. One cautionary note: Edison seems to be a successful program. It is certainly a popular program. Both of our school systems should be concerned that the student population which we share does not move so precipitously between our systems that one of us begins to sink.
2. Do you support the "full disclosure" resolution recently passed by the School Board which requires full disclosure of the costs associated with labor contracts prior to the Board voting?
The Duluth Federation of Teachers asked me the same question. This is what I told them: "I was the original author of this proposal. I withdrew it towards the end of the latest round of contract negotiations because there was some question about whether it was a 'fair labor practice.' These concerns seem to have been laid to rest and I recently voted to make this the policy of the school board. I think it is important that with a ceiling on school spending the public be informed of the potential consequences to the existing program of any proposed contract."
3. What would be your long range plan for school locations, class size, and grade configuration (i.e. should there be a standard for elementary, middle, and high schools?
My preference would be to keep the existing program pretty much the way it is with only minor tweaking. A number of years ago I was a strong supporter of closing Central High School because we could have easily had two 10-12 high schools. This is still true. Recently, however, I have begun to worry about the potential depersonalization of high school, which could result if we merged our schools together. Portions of our community have spoken loudly in favor of keeping three high schools and unless our enrollment drops dramatically I would prefer to keep things the way they are. This is my preference but if we were forced to accept new contract settlements which we could not afford I would be willing to consider closing one high school rather than cut programs.
As for the many different grade configurations in Duluth, I have two thoughts. On the one hand I believe that grade configurations are immaterial if the educational program is a good one. We have generally excellent programs in Duluth so this should not be a worry. On the other hand, I have learned from personal experience that varied grade configurations in different parts of town drives some parents nuts. There is a lot of pressure for uniformity. To the extent that we can bring about uniformity without unreasonable expenditures it could help us generate greater public satisfaction in our schools. That would be very desirable.
4. A large percent of the district budget is personnel related, what do you think the impact of increasing personnel costs will be in relation to current and future program demands and the budget? How would you address this issue?
We can not levy any more revenue for operational expenses. If we are forced to accept a settlement that we can not afford we would have only two legitimate responses - cut programs or close schools. Going back into debt should not be an option.
5. Do you support a "tax to the max" position regarding the property tax levy? What other options would you support to solve financial problems?
I support taxing to the max. It had been my intention to campaign for a maximum levy in this election. Unfortunately, last years settlement pushed me to levy to the max one year earlier.
I had pledged during the 1997 excess levy referendum not to raise the level of taxation. What I did not know when I made that pledge was that Duluth was almost alone among Minnesota school districts in not "taxing to the max." Considering our infamously militant teacher's union this was remarkable. In fact, it must have been a real embarrassment for the DFT leadership that the district wasn't taxing to the max. Now that we have levied to the maximum I can face teachers and honestly tell them that we have no more revenue to offer them. I hope the union leadership acknowledges this truth. If not, and if a new settlement forces us to consider cutting too much out of our educational program I will dig in my heals and plan for a long, nasty strike and a complete shut down of our schools.
6. What is the number one issue facing the school district? How would you address it and what role do you envision for the Chamber/business community?
My first concern is establishing trust and cooperation between our management and teachers. Actually, improved student performance is my number one concern but I do not believe that this can be fully achieved without teamwork and that requires trust and cooperation.
I hope to help end or reduce letters-to-the-editor which bash our schools, our teacher's unions, our school management, or the contract settlements. Ironically, I am attempting to accomplish this by challenging the leadership of the union. If you visit my web page at www.snowbizz.com you will find that I have reprinted many DFT Newsletters. You will discover that I dispute much that is written in these newsletters. Our teachers are now on-line thanks to the recent referendum and stable management of the district. They will be able to read my responses to the diatribes in the newsletters. Our teachers are not dumb. I believe that the sorry state of union-management relations in our district can be traced to colossal egos, union politics and paranoia. We have some truly wonderful teachers. Many of our teachers disagree with their leaders but are afraid to speak openly.
The business community could help our school district by being good cheerleaders for the public schools. Most people, including teachers, respond better to a pat on the back than a kick in the butt.