Not Eudora   By Harry Welty
Published May 1, 2003

Even In Your Grief  

Claudia says that when I die sheís going to park a dumpster next to our house and throw all my papers out the window into it. I plan to outlive her. Of course, she may not wait for me to kick the bucket. She might do it the next time I leave town. To discourage her from acting preemptively Iíve spent the last six months cleaning out my files and our attic. Because Iíd already hauled so much to Goodwill, with my daughter and her fiancťe, there wasnít much left for me to take to our church rummage sale last Monday.

As I pulled up to the church I glanced across the street and saw Tom Boman shepherding two small children in his back yard. I held my gaze a little longer than usual hoping that Tom might notice me. When he did I shouted to him that his recent column in the Tribune, arguing for smaller high schools, had been pretty compelling. Then I groused that he was making my life difficult. (Thatís because Iíve been calling for the School Board to close a high school) I could tell Tom was pleased with himself when he yelled back, ďI kinda hoped it would have that affect.Ē

I hauled my rummage into the church regretting that I hadnít told Tom what was really on my mind. Tom had written the column just days after the death of his beautiful and brilliant daughter Annette. Despite his grief he had managed to focus his attention on his lifeís mission - something that really mattered to him. Public Education. Itís the grand adventure that Tomís two, motherless, grandchildren will soon embark upon.

Sunday night, the day before I dropped stuff off at church, a hastily called meeting of sixty hockey supporters, many of them businessmen, got together to plan a campaign. They want to force the School Board to overrule the Administration and renew the contract of a hockey coach. These folks are furious that no one will tell them why the decision was made. As one of Duluth ís many educational know-it-alls Iíve been frustrated too. I hate playing Sergeant Schulz and telling our critics, ďI know nothing!Ē Everyone is incredulous that the School Board canít demand a public explanation.

Extra curricular staff are hired under a ďno faultĒ provision of the Teacherís Contract. They can quit no-questions-asked whenever they want and we can replace them under the same conditions. Our lawyers tell us that if we violate the contract by giving reasons or ďshowing causeĒ we could open ourselves to possible litigation. Is this true? Who knows? A sportís reporter quoted some Twin Cities lawyer who pooh poohed this defense. He must know. Heís a lawyer. The world is black and white.

Fifteen years ago I was a non-tenured teacher in the Duluth Schools. The School District did not have to "show cause" when they terminated me.  Unlike the coach I had a pretty good idea why I was let go. There was a letter in my personnel file criticizing me for using coarse language in front of students. For all I know its still there. I was a teacher not a coach. There were reasons.

I suppose contract language must seem like a lot of red tape to the sixty businessmen. These guys want results. One warned me that this is just the beginning of an avalanche that will bury the School Board. Another told me that hockey is important to Duluth ís economy. ďAnd the schools arenít?Ē I thought to myself.

The Duluth Schools face a ten million dollar shortfall over the next two years. Dozens of teachers will be laid off. We have cut a class period from the high school day. Several schools will be shuttered maybe even one of the high schools that Tom wants us to keep open. Damn! I think this was Tomís fourth column on the subject.

Our Business Director, one of the best in the state, is leaving for another job. Itís killed his spirit to tell our principals how many teachers they will have to lay off. He wonít have to be the grim reaper in his new job and heíll make a lot more money.  Our Human Resources Director is also quitting. Sheís getting the same position in the private sector overseeing 22,000 employees! Sheíll also be making a lot more money and she wonít be stuck in a city where everyone presumes that sheís just another dumb government bureaucrat.

A year and a half ago we offered an excess levy referendum to pump more money into the Duluth Schools. Had it passed we might have avoided the worst of these calamitous cuts. I begged the business community not to oppose the levy and they didnít. On the other hand I donít remember a single businessman lifting a finger to help pass the levy. But Sunday night sixty businessmen got together to make sure a $4,000 a year hockey coach keeps his job.

Thereís an election coming up. Maybe we school board members will give our administrators a vote of no-confidence over their extra-curricular decision in order to assure a vote of confidence for ourselves next November.

I can still hear the voices of Tomís grandchildren in my head. Tom, as one father to another, you have my deepest sympathy. Thank you for caring about the Duluth Schools, even in your grief. 

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