DFT Vice President Jim Falk Disses Edison

Jim's Letter-to-the-editor My Reply


Edison contributed to school budget woes

Educational accountability is a popular phrase these days. Everyone from the president to the governor on up to the parents and taxpayers of Duluth want accountability. Mostly, they want it from my fellow teachers and me. With the current budget problems facing the school district, we are told that program cuts and school closings are inevitable. With that in mind, I would like to ask for a little accountability from another group.

In 1996 the Duluth School Board, under the leadership of then-superintendent Mark Myles, decided to bring the Edison for-profit system to Duluth. Many in the public questioned whether creating a competing school district in Duluth was a good idea, especially after two decades of school closings. Many raised concerns that Edison's arrival would be at great cost to the district and to Duluth students in lost programs and closed schools. We were assured that this would not be the case. In an opinion piece in the News Tribune (March 26, 1997) School Board member Robert Mars stated, "The idea that our taxes will rise or that remaining public school children will be short-changed is erroneous.''

Were we misled? Did the superintendent and the School Board not foresee the most basic consequences of their actions?

It is now time for Mars and board members Mary Glass LeBlanc and Harry Welty, together with former board members George Balach, Phil Storsteen, Mary Cameron, Tim Grover and Brad Bennett to join Myles and once again explain to the public how the loss of students does not negatively affect School District finances. When asked in 1996 and 1997 to identify the Duluth schools that would close if Edison grew to 800 students, they declined to respond. Perhaps they deemed the question impertinent. It doesn't seem impertinent now. This group should tell the public which schools they would choose to close, take the heat and be accountable.
Jim Falk

"It is now time for ... Harry Welty, ... to... explain to the public how the loss of students does not negatively affect School District finances."

OK. Here goes: 

Our taxes did not rise and our children have not been hurt as a result of Edison's arrival. There are three new public schools in Duluth run by Edison. This means increased parental choice, something which some current school board members seem intent on eliminating by closing the magnet schools.  On the other hand, the DFT has lost several dozen teachers and the $500 annual union dues they would otherwise send away to St. Paul and Washington DC. Of course, the DFT is free to try and organize Edison's teachers to recoup their losses.

Our 709 teachers are paid the same whether Edison is here or not and we have just as many programs as we had before Edison arrived. 

Edison has meant one change, however. ISD 709 has fewer students to pay for the same number of buildings, but getting the Edison students back would not give the District a free ride. If we got the Edison students back we would also get back the expenses for teaching them. In fact, because Edison seems to do a better job of containing their expenses than 709 does, getting the Edison students back could pose financial problems for us. 

Declining enrollment is not a new phenomenon.  Declining enrollments made closing a high school a good idea ten years ago when it was first rejected. Its an even better idea now. Edison plays no part in this as the Edison students return to ISD 709 after eighth or ninth grade.

In fact, well before Edison arrived we started putting 5th and 6th graders into middle schools, and 7th and 8th and 9th graders into our high schools.  Its worth keeping in mind that Edison's 875 enrollment is only about half of the enrollment decline we've seen since their arrival. 

I like Jim. We taught across from each other back in 1987 at Morgan Park. He was my daughter's math teacher at Woodland a few years later. But Jim is a vice president of the Duluth Federation of Teachers. Its his duty to criticize Edison.