President's Message (Public Education is under attack)

9-27-99 My Response
I think that it was early in the eighties that the Artist Formerly Known as Prince wrote a song in which he sang "we're gonna party like it's 1999." It may be proof that time does fly, but gee whiz folks it's 1999 and this new school year will take us into the next millennium. That alone will serve to lend this school year importance beyond what would normally be the case. It is yet to be determined whether we will remember the nineties as the best of times or the worst of times or perhaps quite a time, but "the times they are a changing." No doubt in ten years much of public education will still be recognizable, however the possibility exists that it will be much different.

1. Public education remains very much under attack. It seems to make little difference that measures of student achievement are improving. 2. It also seems to matter little that schemes like charter schools and vouchers have not been able to deliver on the promises made. Much of the education debate is more about politics than education.

3. Despite another dismal round of student test scores the Edison schools keep expanding, drawing students and money from the Duluth Public Schools. Although the Edison' folks have promised to cap enrollment, they are already talking about a second middle school in West Duluth.

4. Although vouchers are not the imminent threat in Minnesota that they are in other states, it is very likely that they will once again be a part of the national debate as we enter the next round of national elections. Victories we have experienced during the last couple of years could easily be negated by changes at the national level.

Not only is every state in the nation working on raising standards for students, many are involved in increasing standards for the licensing of teachers and developing new ways of measuring teacher performance in the classroom. 5. The new teacher contract in Detroit institutes a pilot program which ties student achievement to teacher pay. Apparently students will be tested and evaluated in various subject areas. Teachers will then make a guess as to how much improvement the students will make on an individual basis. If student achievement improves as forecast the teacher will receive a raise. It’s a new wrinkle in the old ideas of merit pay. It may or may not work, but it will be closely watched by policy makers across the country.

The message to us is clear. We must be politically involved at every level. The upcoming school board election is critical. We have to make sure that we, our families and our friends get out and vote. We need to be personally and financially involved in the campaigns. Still, change in the makeup of the school board may not be enough. 6. Gone is the time when our problems were at the local level and we could battle things out with the school board and administration. Much of what affects us is superimposed from either St. Paul or Washington. We need to determine who our allies are and support them.7. It may require voting on the basis of one issue, education.

Even though the school year has just started, I have had the opportunity to visit several schools. I have talked with many teachers at places such as the mail and the grocery store. The enthusiasm and professionalism which our teachers bring to the new school year is inspiring. We need to communicate this feeling of excitement and commitment to the entire community. The most important contact most people have with the school district is through teachers. It may be a teacher of their child, or a friend who is a teacher, or a neighbor who is a teacher, or perhaps a teacher who belongs to their church or social organization. 8. Most members of the public seldom talk with the superintendent. They do not meet with the school board. Yet it seems that everyone knows a teacher. As teachers we have an opportunity to influence public opinion through our daily contacts. We need to use this opportunity to our advantage by sharing our enthusiasm for the work we do and our belief in public education. Let us talk of positives. We don't need to share our problems with the system. It is very easy for people to get the feeling that public education is full of problems. 9. We need to constantly tell our friends and neighbors about the good things happening in this school district. Perhaps this is the first form of political involvement.

10. I became a teacher because I felt that public education was important. I wanted to spend my life in a profession where I could do good things. I still feel the same way. I know that you share this feeling. We do important work. We do good work To continue this work we must be politically involved at every level and with every opportunity.

Frank Wanner



Negotiations Update #1

The first official negotiations session was held on Wednesday, September 22. Although some preliminary discussions have taken place, this was the first time that the entire teams from both sides have met.

Yes, this was a late start. Most districts have been negotiating and some have settled. There is no one to blame for our late start, and it is likely that had we met earlier we would have met for the sake of meeting. Several issues including severance and insurance required more information prior to any meaningful discussions taking place.

We are now confident that both sides have had ample time to prepare a proposal, select negotiators and gather information. 11. We are optimistic that a settlement can be reached prior to the January deadline. We realize that members find it frustrating to once again begin school without a contract. 12.However, it is always better to get a good contract later than a poor one sooner.

It is still too early to see a definite pattern in settlements, some trends are emerging. 13.The settlements to date seem to be in the 3.5% range per year.

The D.F.T. negotiations team will include Jim Pierre, Beth McCuskey, Jim Melander, Sue Anderson, Neil Kent, Sue Abrahamson and Frank Wanner. Jerry Brown will serve as our staff representative from Education Minnesota. Jerry and Frank will share the position of chief negotiator. Greg Burns, Deputy Director of Education Minnesota will be advising us and joining us for some of our sessions. If the going gets tough, Greg will be here a lot. Please feel free to direct your questions to any member of our team.


Elections Update

The D.F.T. Independent Elections Committee was hard at work while many of us were on vacation. In early August a screening of school board candidates was held. The committee did a great job of reaching out to the membership for help and the membership responded admirably. Over sixty members took part in the screening. This was the best participation in recent memory. Many thanks to all who took part.

Remember, the campaign is just beginning. The committee still needs your help both personally and financially. Members may also want to work on the campaigns of endorsed candidates.

The Local Election Committee includes: Sue Anderson, Char Johnson and Neil Kent.

Professional Growth by Professional Teachers During the first part of August, Education Minnesota and the AFT sponsored Educational Research and Dissemination Training at the University of St. Thomas. This was open to Education Minnesota members from across the state. We are proud to announce that all but one of the instructors or presenters were from the D.F.T. professional issues and ER&D programs. I think that this really says something about the quality of the people and program we have here in Duluth.

The D.F.T. ER&D presenters included, Cyndi Venberg presenting Beginning Reading Anne Krafthefer and Kathy Kilby presenting Thinking Math, and Charlene Johnson and Diana Vanasse presenting Reading Comprehension.

For more information on the D.F.T. ER&D program or our Professional Issues Committee, contact Cyndi Venberg at Lowell. The institute will be offered again next summer at St. Thomas. Watch for announcements in the Spring.

Frank Wanner










1. No kidding?

2. I think they call this kind of statement an unsupported allegation.


3. This is not true. At most it could be said that Edison students did no better than Duluth students in general. Because we heeded the objections of the four new board members elected in 1997 we will not compare Edison students to 709 students directly. Even Eileen Zeitz Huddleson, a persistent  Edison critic, suggested that Edison's students' testing results of academic growth "showed promise."

4. And vouchers should be part of the national debate for anyone who cares about the children in America's most desperate inner city schools. I agree that Minnesota is an unlikely place to implement them.



5. Sounds good to me.










6.This is sooooo true! But don't expect Frank to stop battling the Board and Administration. Its too much fun.


7.Oh goody. Education gets to join abortion as a single interest issue.







8. Frank has told me he doesn't even think principals are necessary. He's remarkably dismissive of anybody who isn't a teacher.





9. And the way to do this?  Why just tell everybody that the school board is the source of all the problems, of course!


10. I would hope so.


















11. I'm not so optimistic. I'm afraid Frank is counting on sweeping the election to get his "good contract."

12. This helps explain why negotiations take so long. Its a matter of wearing down the school board so they will be resigned to making program cuts in order to get the contract settled and avoid a strike.

13. And the State has already warned school districts that these settlements are unafforable.See news story