Wednesday, 1-9-2002

Powder Keg

Dear Political Diary,

I woke up at about two this morning and didn't get back to sleep till after five. When the alarm went off at 6:30 it woke me out of a sound sleep. I had the presence of mind to remember my 6:45 appointment with the Glen Avon Men's Morning group. I was the featured speaker on the "ABC's" of the Duluth Schools. I made it there in my allotted fifteen minutes.

About 25 fellows were helping themselves to coffee and muffins in the Fireside Room. I sat down with a Danish and a cup of coffee. There were no false mustaches. None of the church women had challenged the sanctity of this all make preserve.

Our new pastor began with a prayer that asked us to be more concerned about our "character" than our "reputation." Sorry Grandpa. Dick Pearson followed and introduced me using my "eccentric's resume" and I launched into a ten minute analysis of the state of the schools with a heavy emphasis on finance.

That left plenty of time for questions and there was no end of them. All went pretty well till Scott got his turn. A passionate opponent of Edison he made it clear he felt that I had not honored my fiduciary responsibilities toward the Duluth Schools. I heard him out then gave my standard reply.

For the sake of illustration I assumed that the Duluth schools had 12,000 students and a $100 million budget while the  Edison school had 800 children and a $4 million budget. I explained that if the Duluth Schools had a $4 million shortfall reenrolling the 800 Edison students wouldn't solve it. This was true because, despite receiving Edison's $4 million, the Duluth schools would use all that money to educate the Edison students.  Duluth would still be short its original $4 million deficit.

As admitted that if Duluth had empty elementary buildings it would be a financial burden to keep them open. However, I said, this was not the case. I knew our elementary schools were not empty because I had asked the Administration if we could bring our 800 sixth graders back to the elementary schools but the Administration had told me that wasn't any room for them. If we can't fit 800 sixth graders into our existing elementary schools we certainly fit 800 Edison children into them either. 

Scott and I are friends. We've traveled together on workcamp trips with our church youth. We have agreed to disagree on the subject of Edison. I'm afraid our animated discussion alarmed some of the men. Dick Pearson jumped in to divert us from the subject and our new minister Lon followed up with words of calming reassurance. As heated as he had been Scott gave me a friendly wave when he left later which I took to mean that he meant no offense.

Another fellow asked me how I could dare to suggest the closure of East High School considering it would mean "political suicide." I reminded him of the prayer we'd begun with and told him I viewed the question as a matter requiring character.

While a handful of participants left after an hour to get to work the meeting lasted for nearly two hours because most of the audience members were retired. We stuck it out till 9 when I headed home only to remember my promise to attend the PTSA (Parent Teacher Student Association) at nine. Judy Seliga the organization's new President  had invited me the night before. For the first four years I was on the Board I attended the PTSA religiously. I'd gotten out of the habit two years earlier when leadership more friendly to the other side of the Board had taken over.

I was getting a big kick out of Judy because she was echoing some of my sentiments regarding school configurations. I was a little late but just in time to be part of a spirited inquiry into the District's new math curriculum. I mentioned that our math teachers had recently sent us some recommendations and one of the new PTSA officers requested a peek at them. The new PTSA officer was Mary Ann Lucas Houk the District's recently retired Curriculum Director.

Judy had mentioned Mary Ann's involvement but I had forgotten. She is the guardian and god mother of two children and gotten active in the PTSA. When I gave a very general review of the math controversy Mary Ann followed up with a precise and professional explanation of same which put me to shame.

Julio showed up on the half hour just in time to get in on the discussion of December budget cut list. That gave me my chance for a quick escape. On the way out I walked over to Mary Ann and whispered in her ear: "Mary Ann, you've gone over to the other side." I think she cracked a little smile, a very little smile, while she continued on with the PTSA's business. Mary Ann is a formidable woman.

Robb was up when I got back. Diane had roused him and he was slipping on his jacket for school. Diane has cleaned our house once a week for years now. She's been a wonderful source of much needed objectivity about the school board. 

She told me that Dorothy Neumann had been tippling on the Superior side of St. Louis Bay. An apparently voluble Dorothy had recently told an audience that I was a "powder keg." Such an explosive revelation. I wonder whether this particular "charge" will be repeated in letters to the editor if I run for the state legislature. 

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By the way, we got some good news about Minnesota students improving graduation rates in the paper today. Check it out 

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