School ills reflect neglect

At some point a line of demarcation should be drawn through the chronology of recent Duluth School Board history,Board history, dividing the dark recent past (shadows of which still loom over an uncertain future) and hoped-for brighter days ahead.

That line should be placed at July 1992. The arrival of Superintendent Reginald Nolin that month began change that is ending years of neglect, incompetence and even cynical self-interest on the parts of some individuals whose stewardship of the public trust was sadly lacking.

Should we name names? Perhaps, but we choose to believe that most of the responsibility for leading the Duluth school system into a quagmire it is still struggling to release itself from must be shared among many, including some elected School Board members and some administrators over a period of several years.

Today's problems, mainly the concern over the district's mounting deficit now estimated at $2.9 million for this year and possibly more, have been caused by - as Nolin put it - a financial system that has gradually collapsed under the combined weight of a complicated system (which he wisely seeks to improve with updated computer programs), staff shortages in the finance department and a high turnover of top administrators.

Most alarming of the latest revelations is that current financial problems are rooted in intentional overestimations of enrollment figures, which are the basis of determining state and local revenue. In recent years, those figures were inflated to bring in more money, reflecting enrollment gains that didn't exist. 

An honest mistake? Intentional deception? We believe the figures show a pattern of deception designed to shield enrollment declines from state education officials (who should have ended it long ago).  

Nolin has taken over a district in disarray, but he is turning it around. And there is a danger he could suffer politically for his candor in making these problems public. That should not happen. Nolin merely overturned the rock to expose the muck. Sunlight can only help get rid of it.