Wednesday, 2-6-2002

I Didn't Dare Leave 

Dear Political Diary,

Tonight's citywide PTA meeting was held at Lester Park. I had told the new chair, Judy Seliga, that I'd have to depart early because of church choir practice but once the meeting got started I didn't dare leave.

Judy had sent me and the other Board members several letters earlier in the week with a long list of suggestions for cutting administrative expenses.  Until just before the meeting I had only glanced at them. A lot of the suggestions amounted to giving one employee the work done formerly by two employees.  It also echoed old complaints about various administrators sometimes mentioning them by name. It skirted around the edge of libel.

When I got to the school at 6:30 I was given my third tour of the building since 1996. ILester was constructed in the 1920's and was poorly designed for the handicapped.  On the other hand it was a quaint old building.  Thirty PTA leaders showed up as well as Janna and Garry Krause, the Superintendent and his two chief administrators. 

The first major agenda item was the math curriculum which has frustrated many traditional parents and teachers. I like the idea of making math more user friendly but the traditionalists are convinced that our new new math curriculum is shortchanging the kids who thrived under the old system and hurting their chances to get into college. 

The new approach is a product of math educators who point out how poorly many of our current students do in math. Its chief opponents are also math educators. All I could suggest to the PTA was that we encourage teachers to use both math learning styles just as we teach both whole language and phonics. It will be a challenge for the Curriculum department to make changes since its suffered so many staff cuts.

My choir practice drew near even before we got to the meeting's  primary subject - budget cuts. I realized as we continued that I wouldn't be in town on Sunday anyway because of an out of town funeral so I decided to stay. I argued that after six lean budget years our administration had never gotten the chance to grow fat. I also pointed out that our district had about the same percentage of administrative expenses as other Minnesota school districts. This time I forgot to point out how trimming our administration excessively in the past had led to a five million dollar debt.

I stayed away from the PTA letters finger pointing but was relieved when both past presidents Phil Enke and Rosie Loeffler Kemp raised immediate alarms about it. They complained that they hadn't been shone the letter before it was sent out to the School Board. 

A tug of war developed between the parents who sent the letter and the others. When one of the letter's defenders asked why the District had hired an outside law firm I explained how and why the decision had come about. When I couldn't recall how much more the Twin City's firm cost us I made the mistake of saying that I didn't have a head for numbers and that I couldn't recall how much I'd paid for my old refrigeratort. Even I could have jumped down my throat after hearing that kind of an answer.

Garry Krause leaned into my ear and told me that cost comparissons were important. He was right of course but my ill chosen words were really a reflection of my being put on the defensive a position I'm generally able to avoid. I was glad to get home.

Before going to bed I checked my web page statistics and discovered that my mostly neglected legislative elections site Givemhellharry.org had over 250 hits that day. I wondered if my appearance at the Redistricting hearing had caused the local DFLer's to sit up and take notice of me.  Its too bad the site is in such bad shape.

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