Not Eudora   By Harry Welty
Published Sept 19, 2003

Dividing the Baby 



The latest in an interminable series of long-range planning meetings starts at about 6:30 PM . Its crunch time. If the School Board is going to offer an excess levy with any credibility it, we, will have to explain what we are going to do with the $4.9 million it raises


Even with the levy money the District faces a $1.3 million deficit. Without the levy we will have to slash $6.2 million. Lord, God Almighty! Last year’s 5 million deficit forced us to lay off 75 teachers.


We are set to discuss what we would cut with the SOS proposed levy (which leaves us with 2.3 million to cut) and without the levy (requiring the 6.2 million cut). Once we decide what cuts we will make we can tell voters how the SOS (Save Our Schools) plan will work. SOS keeps pointing out that the state will match the levy’s 2.7 million in property taxes with $2.2 million but that’s not going to be enough to persuade our skeptical voters. They must be told what the levy will do and what will happen without it.


So, we meet for three hours. We haggle. We do not identify a single cent to be cut from our budget. We will have to have the entire discussion again tomorrow after our long school board meeting. I am perturbed. When another Board member begins to equate the trauma our administrators will endure when they leave their offices in Old Central with the trauma felt by families when their school closes I become impatient. The Chair has ruled that our meeting will adjourn in five minutes. I straighten my papers with a solid whack on the table and stalk out of the meeting. Before I leave I tell the leader of SOS that I will vote against offering a levy to the voters. The Tribune will report that I stormed out of the meeting. I like the word “stalk” better. I go home and have a couple glasses of wine. Three Board members or wannabe board members call to sympathize as I imbibe. I’m quite jovial by bedtime; a drunken executioner mulling over life’s absurdities.




I wake up after a good night’s sleep. It’s a beautiful day. I spend the morning hiking Park Point. I haven’t done this all summer. I pick agates, skip stones, and go wading soaking my jeans to the crotch. I buy a snickers blizzard from Dairy Queen before heading home.


There is a phone message on my answering machine. Mary Cameron has called. She and Bob Nygaard have a proposal to save the levy and the elementary schools which the SOS plan sacrifices. It sounds good to me. I call Mary back. She emails their plan to me. It’s very simple. It’s one of the plans presented to the School Board by the Principals. It turns Central High School into a middle school; Woodland Middle school becomes an elementary school. Bob and Mary have also come up with a list of $6.2 million in cuts should the levy fail. Hallelujah!


I look at tonight’s School Board agenda. I read Roberts Rules of Order.  I check School Board policies. I review the Principal’s proposal and other pertinent paperwork. I call two other Board members. Chair Mars agrees that closing Central makes sense but tries to talk me out of supporting a levy. I tell him I’m not sure I can oppose it. The other Board member I call is in such a hurry that I dictate the details to a spouse who shouts them at the Board member who is shoveling down food at the supper table.


The issue of the levy authorization is on the Board’s agenda. However, there is no mention of the SOS plan on the agenda. Excellent! Our procedures require that new “action items” get a unanimous vote to go on the agenda on the day of a meeting. I have no doubt that the SOS plan’s supporters on the Board intend to vote on the SOS plan tonight. But……. since it’s not listed on the agenda they will either have to let us present our plan or pass up a vote on theirs.


There will be at least four votes for our plan, maybe five. Even if we fail we will at least have made an attempt to save elementary schools.


After the motion is made to adopt the agenda I point out to the Chairman that there is nothing on the agenda about adopting a long range plan (either SOS’s or ours) Chair Mars says that we will discuss long range plan adoptions during the debate on the levy. No one objects to the Chair’s ruling. Oh goodie. We’re on the agenda.


The Board member who irritated me the previous day by describing the plight of the CAB workers pleads for the Board to vote on the levy with little debate. She wants the controversial middle school plan but hopes that we can vote first on the levy and debate the long range plan after words. She does not realize that some of us have a different long range plan to offer. We have a cordial discussion. Eight Board members vote to offer the levy. Only Bob Mars dissents.


After approving the levy I move to turn Central High School into a middle school. Mary Glass-Leblanc objects saying that new action items can not be added to the agenda on the day of a meeting without the unanimous approval of the Board. I point out that Chair Mars has already said that a discussion of the adoption of a long range plan was to take place at this time. Chair Mars asks the District’s attorney to explain how we should proceed. Our attorney says that a decision about what constitutes an “action item” depends on the Chair’s “interpretation.”


It’s all up to Bob Mars. He rules that the “discussion” can proceed but that our vote on my motion will not be binding since it is not an action item. It doesn’t seem prudent to disagree with the Chair. Another Board member points out that my motion says we will “adopt” a two high school plan. Bob rules that just because it says "adopt” doesn’t mean we actually will adopt.


To make a long story short: we get four “yes” votes. Bob Mars says he’s only voting “no” because he opposes the levy. I know that one other Board member who voted “no” was sympathetic to our motion and hostile to the SOS plan. Even though we lose things are looking good.


After the meeting the SOS leader tells me that if we don’t promise three high schools with the levy her committee will quit in protest.




Hush hush negotiations begin behind the scenes. (If you think I’m going to tell you about them you're crazier than I am)




SOS will meet again on Thursday. A compromise may be worked out that will satisfy both sides. If not, King Solomon will have to divide the baby.


Harry Welty is a small time politician who lets it all hang out at www.snowbizz.com