December, 17, 2002

Accepting a Million

Dear Political Diary,

If someone offered you a cool million to help out a hardscrabble neighborhood would you turn it down? It seems like there could only be one obvious answer but until tonight the School Board hasn't been very obvious.

Grant School has had a million dollar grant waiting for it for two years now. Its money the Minnesota Department of Children Families and Learning granted to increase the size of  Grant's tiny  gymnasium and adding rooms for various community organizations. And yet, because the Duluth Schools have been so directionless, we would not accept the money. 

This is because accepting the money might have required the District to keep open a school that could have been closed. We didn't think the State would be very happy giving us the money for Grant School only to close it afterwards. Of course, this was not a difficult choice for me. I have no desire to close any more elementary schools. Bring on the money and give the kids a decent gym that they can run in.

Two months ago the Board decided to spare Grant School and close Chester Park Elementary instead. This was despite an Administrative recommendation to do just the opposite. As far as I was concerned this was a fortunate decision (which I opposed vehemently) because I thought Chester Park would be better able politically to save themselves should the grim reaper head their way. As luck would have it this is exactly how things worked out. And I helped the Chester Parkers all I could. Just read yesterday's entry and the links I put in it.

Since the Board flip flopped on Chester the Administration has recommended not voting to close any elementary schools for next year. And yet tonight's agenda did not include a place for us to vote on accepting the state grants for Grant. Puzzling.

I'll have to admit to a little sleepwalking lately. I wasn't focusing on Grant School until this morning's paper had a front page story about Grant. I read it and thought to myself that we really ought to push Grant through even though it seemed as though the Administration was dragging its feet.

So tonight, during the Superintendent's report, I asked if we could discuss Grant's grant even though it wasn't on the agenda. It was soon apparent that a clear majority of the Board wanted to discuss this. Only Laura Condon and Mike Akervik hesitating. By voting to defer it they could have killed our acceptance of the grant.

Bob Mars made a motion to discuss the issue. I was glad I didn't make the motion because Laura would probably have voted against me. Putting a new item on our agenda on the night of a meeting requires all nine Board members to agree. It looked like Laura was going to oppose this but after expressing her misgivings she went along. Bob's motion would likely pass. 

I made the argument that the new Pawlenty Administration and Legislature might not honor the grant in January owing to the five billion deficit hanging over the state's head. I suggested that Christine Jax, the current Secretary of the CFL would give us the money.  I was so proud of my argument until a few minutes ago when I reread the aforementioned news story. The Collaborative's advocates had already  made the very same arguments. I'm doing that more often these days. Someone in my family says something then I repeat it a few minutes later having forgotten that they had just made the same thing. Duh!

Thank goodness there is an election this Spring. If there hadn't been one coming up the dark force (that is intent on closing elementary schools) might have prevailed and we would have lost the grant. One of our Board members agonized for a long time during the discussion, no doubt because she wanted to consult the Dark Force before voting. Ah the Green Mill, so close and yet so far.

Read the next day's story