Not Eudora   By Harry Welty
Published July 25, 2003

Be Careful What You Wish For

For four years the school board members from western Duluth, Dorothy Neumann, Laura Condon, Mike Akervik and Mary Glass-LeBlanc have labored over the District's long range plan secure in the knowledge that no matter how many schools the District had to close western schools, at least, were safe. As a result they all confidently pushed a school configuration in which elementary schools would contain grades K-5, middle schools grades 6-8, and senior highs grades 9-12. Some of us in Eastern Duluth were very unhappy with this configuration because it meant the unnecessary closing of some of our eastern schools. The tug of war between us and the Board's indecision has gotten desperate. Because most of us want to offer an excess levy
referendum in the coming election we pressured the Administration to give us a blueprint for school closings. We understand that voters will not pass a referendum until we make a decision to close schools. The Administration bravely did what we demanded at last Tuesday's Committee of the Whole. Bowing to Duluth's population shift from west to east they laid out a plan to close Morgan Park and Denfeld. Our western board members left the meeting in a state of shock.

Our western school board members have been quite willing, even insistent that we close eastern schools to achieve their perfect plan. Well, we've got a perfect plan now. It gets rid of our excess building capacity, it closes eastern and western schools but most importantly, it preserves their precious grade configuration. No Board member from western Duluth who wants to be reelected will ever vote for it. It brings to mind the old saw, "be careful what you wish for." I don't feel very sympathetic.

At our June meeting these same western representatives, along with Chairman Mars, voted to spend an additional quarter-million dollars for a fourth year extension to Morgan Park's three-year Middle School pilot. They did this despite the fact that the District faced a five million dollar deficit next year. But that was before the meeting. During the meeting it was announced, that a new budget analysis had revealed that the deficit would jump by an additional $400,000. The quarter million dollars for Morgan Park plus this $400,000 was going to push next year's budget shortfall from 5 to 5.65 million dollars. Not wanting the voters to think that they were going to increase the deficit just for the sake of a western school they handed a plum to eastern schools. They also voted to spend another quarter-million dollars for full-time seventh grade science classes. This generosity pushed next year's deficit to 5.9 million dollars.

What will a 5.9 million deficit mean for the district next year? Well, that's easy enough to show because we have a five million dollar deficit this year. To keep our books balanced this year we laid off 75 teachers. Next year we'll lay off additional teachers. We'll be lucky if it's only 75.

I am a little frustrated. Ever since I've been on the Board our District has been trimming its budget. Our administrative costs are the lowest in the state per student because our policy has always been to keep budget cuts as far away from the classroom as possible. Our teachers have worked assiduously to make sure our children, especially those in the elementary grades, keep up in math and reading. We were a "no child left behind" district long before President Bush came up with the slogan. Good student test results for the past several years have demonstrated that our efforts have paid off. If only we could just close some schools.

Our success did not come easy. Every one of our schools carefully built an educational safety net for their students to make sure their progress wasn't taken for granted. These safety nets are teams of teachers who work with students much like a medical triage unit. Unfortunately, these educational teams are under assault. Laying off 75 teachers, nearly ten percent of our staff, will undermine these teams. And the upheaval doesn't stop here. Another 100 or so teachers are stampeding to hold onto their seniority and their jobs by switching to new schools and long unused licenses. Layoffs and "bumping" will end up affecting nearly twenty percent of our teachers. It will be even worse next year. Thank goodness we will still have that middle school pilot and full-time seventh grade science.

For the past six years the Duluth School Board has labored mightily to design a long-range plan for its buildings. Unfortunately, every two years our long range planning is interrupted by a school board election which
results in a new School Board and we start the process all over from scratch.

I'll bet we could come up with a politically acceptable plan to close schools if some Board members stopped insisting on a K-5, 6-8, 9-12 grade configuration. The possibility of closing Morgan Park and Denfeld might
change some people's priorities. The western Board members should be hearing from their constituents over the next few days. One just called me.

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

The Duluth News Tribune wrote an editorial telling its readers to "embrace" a one high school plan. 

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