Chapter 6 Save Our Schools and the District 3 Race

Two years earlier, I had enlisted some Edison parents to help out in the Bob Mars write-in campaign. However, as Edison was only in its first months up and running as a school there was no parent network established to organize around. Still, the thought of organizing Edison parents to defend their school was very attractive.

I was so provoked by the campaign being waged by my Board colleagues, by Al Netland and the unions that I was not content to merely preserve four seats on the board. I wanted to retain a majority. This meant winning Tim Grover's 3rd District for which only had one candidate, and a pro-union one at that, running. I wanted to find a write in candidate and I needed the Edison parents to help me find one. But first I had to start organizing the Edison parents.

Even as the Mary Mary Mars letter was being sent out I lucked into stumbling into a parent volunteer meeting at Edison Kenwood. I made a pitch about how we had to save Edison the need to promote the Mary Mary Mars candidates and the need for finding a write-in candidate for the 3rd District. At that meeting alone I got ten volunteers to help me send out letters to Edison parents for an organizational meeting.

Starting with a list of Edison parents who had agreed to let their phone numbers be published in a school directory we sent out a mailing which I had drawn up analyzing the election, explaining how the Edison parents could affect the election and announcing an organizational meeting. It was a very thorough announcement.

Even before the organizational meeting we had a candidate. Susan Makowski a parent volunteer had gone home and told her husband Dave that he would be our candidate if necessary and he agreed. This part of the election plan was by far the most fanciful. As Tim Grover, George Balach and others pointed out: "If Bob Mars can't win a write-in election, no one can." There was no disagreeing with this logic it was very true but if enough Edison parents through themselves into the campaign I felt it was a possibility. For one thing I intended to call every voter in the third district and lobby for Dave and I intended to mail instructions on how to cast write in votes. Although Dave, unlike Bob, was an unknown in Duluth even Bob's campaign had relied strictly on name recognition without any organization other than his lawnsigns which went up like hotcakes. As I had persuaded Bob to use the lawnsigns in the write in I was convinced that the Edison parents could help in this department with both the MMM signs and signs for the 3rd district.

In addition I felt that the 3rd district race could be different in another respect. The only candidate, Gary Krause, had already tipped his hand and said he would vote to end the Edison sponsorship. Gary maintained that this would not affect Edison but I did not agree. In order for Edison to continue it had to get a sponsorship from somewhere. I had already seen the local teacher's union intimidate UMD and Scholastica to keep them away from Edison and I could easily imagine that the now merged statewide teacher's union would do the same thing to any other college in the state. It was true that the Department of Children Families and Learning could also pick up the charter, in fact had an obligation to if Edison could prove that it had done what it set out to do. However, I had heard Dorothy Neumann say that Gov. Ventura had already said he was against "for profit" school boards. As the former MEA lobbyist was the chief aid to his CFL Commissioner I had little doubt that Edison's days would be numbered if we did not maintain the sponsorship. Certainly the new Board would argue that Edison had injured the 709 schools. Then Edison would cast about for other sponsors and see them all shrink away. Finally, the Governor would see to it that the CFL would withhold its sponsorship because Edison was hurting the local schools.

I told the Edison parents that if this entirely credible scenario came to pass it didn't matter what Gary Krause's rationale for ending the local sponsorship of Edison was. It would mean the end of Edison. I told them that the last key ingredient of the campaign was to undermine him by posting slash Krause signs to make voters reluctant to vote for him. 

The Edison parents helped raise the final money for Mary Cameron to pay for her lawnsigns then they raised enough money to pay for the slash Krause signs. Dave was left with the task of raising the money for his own signs. I helped by writing a letter in his behalf which eventually generated the money necessary to pay for his signs.

At one point I was very busy dealing with Todd signs because I had put orders for three campaigns signs with them prior to having any money to pay for them. I've never done this before. I've always run very frugal campaigns and have not spent any money I didn't have ( I painted my own signs this year by myself. I covered over old write in Bob Mars signs that he had given me after that campaign had ended.) Now I gambled that I would find the money and made the personal commitment to pay for the signs myself if our fundraising ran short. My own campaign was going to cost me several thousand dollars and I hoped I would not have to dig any deeper for these other campaigns. I designed each of the lawnsigns and picked them up when the money rolled in. First came a thousand Mary Cameron signs.  Todd had them painted two weeks before we could pay for them. Next came four thousand MMM signs which there was plenty of money for although it left little for any other advertising. Next came the thousand slash Krause signs paid for by the Edison parents and then a thousand McKowski signs. I shamelessly borrowed a theme from an earlier School board campaign with the palm of a child, in this case Katie McKowski.

When the slash Krause signs were finished I proudly brought a handful to Edison Kenwood. I presume one of the neighbors saw me because a short time later Tim Grover told me that Eileen Zeitz Huddleson and Pati Rolf had told him confidentially that they had heard reports that I had been carrying them. The neighbors around Edison Kenwood had been turned against the school in part by some community activism and in part by the unfortunate overcrowding that had taken place in Edison's early years. It was compounded by a redesign of the local streets and the Kenwood school's voluntarily relinquishing of a small parking place in front of the building to improve the looks of the school.  As a result the City descended on the school and put up so many parking signs that I joked that it looked like the building had been put under quarantine. 

On the other side of the street across from Kenwood was a solid phalanx of lawnsigns for all the union promoted school board candidates. It looked like a terrible repudiation of the Kenwood school. Its no wonder that I was tattled on.

The Dump Krause signs turned out to be the only misstep of the campaign. The day after I brought the signs to Edison an Edison secretary called me to tell me that she really thought the signs were not in keeping with the Edison spirit. It was the beginning of the end. Although a handful of Edison parents couldn't wait to put up the signs there was soon a loud call to retrieve the signs. Edison parents told me repeatedly about the credos they preached to their children and how the slash Krause signs were all wrong. The signs had cost a thousand dollars. I knew they would help discredit Krause. As another parent consoled me as I prepared to pull the few signs we had put up back Its not a dump Krause sign its a "not Krause" sign.

In the two days that the Krause signs went up ( the majority in Lakeside ten miles away from Gary's district) Gary took great offense. For the rest of the campaign he referred to the signs and told audiences that he had been sorely abused. I felt that was nothing compared to how the Edison parents would have felt had he, Gary, been given the chance to bury their children's school.

I was initially disappointed at the fairly low attendance at our first organizational meeting but that disappointment evaporated quickly. The parents at the meeting were top notch. They began comparing notes and talking about other parents they would get to join. The sorted themselves out and began planning what they would do - who would put up lawnsigns - who would help put out the mailing to the voters of the third district - who would organize phone calls to third district voters - who would call other parents.  the following day there was a second parent meeting at the new Edison school in the Good shepherd Church building in west Duluth. The parents at this meeting were just as eager to get organized.

The Edison parents were now a force to be reckoned with. In short order their letters started appearing in the newspaper. Anti-Edison letter writers were about to lose their monopoly on that space in the Newspaper. Until this election the administration at Edison had bent over backwards not to cause any fuss. Until now they had actively discouraged parents from responding to negative criticism. This void had left an impression that Duluth was against Edison even though it had a waiting list to enroll children. Now suddenly a vocal chorus of Edison supporters began to make themselves known.