Mary Thompson just interviewed me. It looks like you and I are in for a little public scrutiny. I dont think shes planning to take sides and we both may get our ears boxed.
Here, as I see it, is your dilemma: Your teachers believe you when you say theyve sacrificed pay for great insurance coverage when in fact they merely have expensive coverage. Your teachers believe you when you say they havent gotten a cost of living increase since 1974 when in fact theyve averaged 7.5 to 8% increases while the annual cost of living increases have averaged 5.5%. Your teachers believe you when you suggest that their incomes are far below comparable districts even though you are comparing us to rich suburban districts with oodles of money while subtracting out their longevity and severance. These discrepencies and omissions would be hard for anybody to explain especially in an election year with a strike looming.
Here is my dilemma as I see it. To come up with an additional $750,000 to finance the 3 and 3 proposed by the teachers the School Board would have to do one of four unpalatable things: 1. Cut $750,000 worth of programs, 2. Violate a unanimous campaign pledge not to raise taxes, 3. Dip into the reserve for the benefit of teachers retiring in the next year or two while limiting our ability to pay teachers more in subsequent years. 4. Close Central High School.
In fact, your dilemmas are my dilemmas and vice versa. In addition we share some other dilemmas: 1. There will be a 20 percent decrease in enrollment starting next year in the Kindergarten due to lower birth rates which will stretch out over at least a five year period. 2. The states new laws are driving many welfare families and their students out of the district taking state aid with them. 3. We still have not figured out how to put a dent in our 20 % drop out rate. 4. The School Boards of the past two decades have done nothing to prepare for the day 10 years from now when the massive baby boom retirement will skyrocket our severance obligation from 2% of the operating budget to 10 or more percent.
If I was a Duluth parent with a kindergartner and realized how bad things were going to be, Id move over the hill to Hermantown to escape imminent educational collapse in Duluth. My feud with you does nothing to solve these problems except to put us on a collision course. As we have lived by our rhetoric so may we die.
I can be a stubborn fellow. Fortunately, Im still inclined to listen to my better angles, "generosity of spirit" and "good cheer." But even my better angles cant rescue us if you and I hold hands and jump into the abyss.
Id write more but I must begin writing letters to the one-in-five Duluth teachers whove recently written me urging a settlement to the contract. I will tread carefully. Will you?
Harry R. Welty
P.S. Ive recently taken up cartooning. I have lots of ideas for cartoons but I find I only have time to crank out one every other day or so. Ive enclosed some samples for your amusement.