Latest school scenario would close a high school

Duluth board votes to study proposal

By Mary Thompson
News Tribune staff writer

Could Duluth have two high schools in 2002-2003?

Not likely -- but it is a scenario some Duluth School Board members want to consider.

At their monthly meeting Tuesday, board members voted 5-4 to study the possibility of closing one of the city's three high schools.

The narrow vote followed a debate over a scenario that isn't likely to pass when board members vote on school closings in late April.

Eileen Zeitz-Hudelson, who provided the swing vote, didn't appear likely to support closing a high school.

Zeitz-Hudelson said she voted for the analysis because she hoped it would disprove board member Harry Welty's contention that closing a high school would solve the district's long-range budget shortage.

Board members in the minority criticized the vote, saying news of the scenario could cause undue controversy in a community torn apart by school-closing debates.

"There's no way we can put 2,000 kids into two buildings,'' said School Board President Dorothy Neumann, who voted against the proposal.

Neumann and board members Laura Congdon, Pati Rolf and Mike Akervik voted against the proposal. Zeitz-Hudelson, Mary Glass-LeBlanc, Garry Krause, Bob Mars and Welty voted in favor.

The high school scenario would require board members to change one of the major assumptions used during their long-range planning -- the idea of creating a uniform configuration of K-5, 6-8 and 9-12 schools across the city.

Closing a high school would likely force the district to change the configuration to grades K-6, 7-9 and 10-12.

Board members acknowledged that closing a high school was part of their original long-range planning discussions, which began 18 months ago.

During those discussions, however, district officials estimated declining enrollments would force the district to close one of its high schools in five to eight years.

School Board members will wait to make any decisions on school closings until late April, when they have a better idea of how much money they might get from the Legislature.

This will be the district's third school-closing scenario in less than a month. The first, released three weeks ago, was lambasted during public hearings last week attended by more than 1,000 people.

The most-recent scenario, released Friday, was a response to strong public sentiment for preserving neighborhood elementary schools.

The first plan would close Birchwood, Chester Park, Lester Park, Piedmont and Rockridge elementary schools. It would turn Lowell Elementary into a middle school and Ordean Middle School into an elementary school.

The second plan, released Friday, would close Birchwood, Chester Park, and Grant elementary schools.

District officials are seeking ways to cut $13.45 million total from the district's budget next year and the following year. They are also looking for ways to deal with the district's declining enrollment.

Mary Thompson writes about education. She can be reached by e-mail at mthompson@duluthnews.com or by calling (218) 723-5340.