Heads Up

Dear Political Diary,

The alarm went off at 5AM and I was off and running to my sixth MSBA (Minnesota School Boards Association) Conference in Minneapolis. I stopped at Hinckley, halfway there, and made a prearranged call to a radio station. KOOL Radio was covering the Memorial Winter Carnival and wanted to interview me about my sculpture during the drive time. One of my interviewers twitted me for bugging out before the lutefisk eating contest. I told him that as a Duluth school board member I got more than enough lutefisk to eat.

I registered and heard a wonderful speaker talk about what we needed to convey to all our students. "You are special, and you can do even better." Out of context it sounds mundane but it was a moving bit of advice considering the stories he told. After applauding heartily I headed out for lunch when Julio hailed me. He asked if I had lunch plans and I told him that I would be joining him (since it was apparent he hadn't made plans either) As we headed out of the Convention Center he told me that he had to give me a "heads up." 

We passed on the heads up for a while and talked about his grandchildren and their Aztec names. The heads up, however, couldn't be put off for ever. It had to do with my Television interview a few days earlier. The part he was concerned about had to do with my contention that our district would be $2.3 million more in debt if our teachers got what the state employees got. 

The chief difficulty with this comment was that, while it didn't exactly give away the Board's closed meeting parameters, anyone who wanted to work the math backward could figure out what our parameters were. That was true enough but I told Julio I didn't have any confidence in the union's chief mathematician to do the right calculation. Besides that, I pointed out that our former Chairman had actually given the parameters away in public last Spring. No one had taken her to task at the time. The sad fact is that we'd be in tough shape if the teachers thought those were still our current parameters because the new fiscal reality had caused us to retreat from those stated limits.

Other than hinting at the Board's secret negotiations parameters I could also be accused of negotiating in the press. Our teachers have been very sensitive to past Board's efforts to win public sympathy in the media. While I certainly could be accused of this I didn't do it to make the negotiations tough. I did it in a fit of pique because of the Board's unprecedented attempt to deny me public information which might bolster my case for two high schools. I have grave doubts that we can afford to keep three high schools and in the absence of any attempt to seek alternatives I decided to bypass the Board and share my concerns with the community. 

I pointed out that I had written the same information in my op ed piece in December and that no one had taken me to task for it. I was unrepentant. In fact, I was in a very good mood. I was also in dead earnest but I told Julio that if he could convince me that our district could convince me that we could afford three high schools I could go along with it.

Julio will have to make that case to me late because we ran out of time. Julio, however, did leave me with a thought to ponder. He suggested that the number of students who get scholarships, grants and loans for college would be drastically reduced if we went from three high schools to two. It was an arresting thought but upon reflection I have my doubts about that too. Its one more thing he'll have to prove to me.

Julio thought he had a one o'clock meeting but when it turned out to have been canceled we toured the vendor exhibition together. When we passed Steve O'Neil the District's former architect we stopped and I told him I'd heard from our citywide PTSA President that he had described Central High School as a terrible building. I couldn't think of a better time to raise the issue than now with the Superintendent in tow. 

Steve commented that the era in which Central had been built was a time of quick and careless school construction. He mentioned the problems with the roofs among other things. The three of us compared East and Central and I asked if Central could be rebuilt or if it should be torn down and reconstructed. Julio was quick to point out the limitations of the East site and Steve couldn't deny them. I was left with the same feeling I've always had that the sites are six of one, half a dozen of the other.

I attended to two afternoon presentations. The first dealt with the outcomes for the recent excess levy referendums across the state. It left me with little hope that we could pass one this year any more than we could pass one last year. Minnesota cities and counties will be raising their taxes to and excess school levies will be the only ones taxpayers can vote on. 

The second presentation showed us how to use the new, statewide, public school, data base on the Internet. Its up and running and available to anyone who wants to compare Minnesota school districts finance, staff, student performance etc. The CFL is still working on it but I'm sure once parents start looking at it they will go through the information with a fine tooth comb and throw it back at their school districts.

When a member of the audience requested that Rochester be used for as an example during the presentation I perked up. Julio had asked me to keep my eyes open for anyone from that community. He had heard a rumor that they had been investigated by computer software piracy detectives. He wanted to be prepared in case they showed up in Duluth. 

After the presentation I introduced myself and posed the question. She corralled two other Rochester board members and they were all scratching their heads over the question. If the rumor was true they hadn't heard about it. One called the district's business director to verify the rumor but he was out of the office. They told me to check with them the following day.

I drove to my Mom's house and met my daughter who was joining us for dinner. She gave us each invitations to her J term opera presentation. She's singing a fifteen minute section of Cosi fan Tutte. I was delighted to discover that she was performing this Thursday rather than Friday, because that meant I could drive down with Claudia to watch. Friday I was scheduled to go into St. Luke's. Even opera beats medical, messing about, hands down.

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