Cooling Off

Dear Political Diary,

Its the day after our budget cutting meeting and I'm glad to say I waited before writing yesterday's diary entry. Had I written it last night I would have been quite bitter that the administration had been ordered not to do the research I'd requested. Upon reflection, however, I was impressed with the Board's effort to make serious cuts.  We authorized over 2 million dollars of them. 

Still, it took me several hours of tossing and turning before I could fall asleep. I wasn't the only one. When I pulled into the CAB parking lot to pick up the taped record of the previous week's meeting ( I wanted to see if the K-6 study had really been forbidden) I met Julio. I asked him if he'd gotten any sleep and he shook his head in the negative. "Not very much," he told me.

I was glad I'd run into him because we ended up talking for half an hour. I didn't grouse about my treatment because that wasn't his fault. He asked me if I would be willing to dip into the Budget reserves next year and I told him I wouldn't as long as it wasn't the wholesale liquidation outlined by Laura Condon. She had gotten on her high horse the previous night and suggested spending three million of our reserves because we faced a real emergency. I've already shared my thoughts on that subject.

I asked him a little about negotiations and he asked me if he'd read any of his comments on my web page. I promised that I could keep a secret and was reassured that he was handling things shrewdly. I suggested that it was about time for us to have another closed session and he didn't disagree.

I also reiterated my support for the administration. There had been a couple of perorations the night before. Mike Akervik used one of them to talk about further cutting the Administration, Laura Condon seconded his comments and added that it ought to be the top administration. I knew that Garry Krause felt much the same and I was worried about where this talk could take us.

I gave a little speech myself and admitted that I'd used the "seductive" phrase about making cuts away from the classroom myself. I then went on to remind/tell the Board and the television audience that ten years earier a school board under similar circumstances had cut administration back so far that the management couldn't do its job. It resulted in the district going over five million in debt and I told my fellow board members it hurt plenty when my elementary children lost all their elementary specialists. I said that after six years of budget cutting our Administration had never gotten a chance to fatten up again.

Julio told me at our little conference that I was exactly right. It will take a lot of work to promote this idea among citizens stuck on the idea of government bloat.

I took the cassette of the meeting with me and checked it out before meeting with my buddy Mary Cameron for coffee. One of Mary's first comments was that we had to look carefully at Administration for cuts. Oh jeez this is going to be a real challenge. What may make it even tougher is that Mary has started looking at Julio more critically since he made a big mistake last year. 

Back at the January MSBA conference I'd told Julio that I still hadn't made up my mind whether I was going to challenge the four incumbents in the upcomming election. I told Julio that even though several of them had worked hard to defeat me in the 99 election and I really wanted a collegial board and knew that a feud would make that impossible. Of course my support of Mary would make things tense because her victory would cost one of the at large incumbents a seat but I assured Julio that I only wanted to run a positive campaign. Julio suggested that I make the offer to Pati and Eileen. 

I did make the offer to Eileen but shortly afterward Julio called Mary Cameron to tell her that Eileen and company would support her if she ran for the Duluth City Council but not the school board! Oh my gosh! Superintendents should never butt into board politics. I've always presumed that Eileen asked him to relay the message which seems to be one of her standard methods of operation. Mary took it as a threat even though I strongly disagreed with that interpretation. I suggested that Julio was carrying a board member's water as a favor but that still did not impress Mary. I told her she would have to talk to Julio about it so that it wouldn't hang over us like a little black cloud. I really like Julio and the last thing I want is to see him on the run from a hostile School Board.

The cassette was reassuring. Laura had objected and tried to get a vote to cut me off. Dorothy at first had ordered the vote but relented when I complained and gave me three minutes to continue. Later Dorothy asked if any other board members wanted the administration to check into the two high school plan for the succeeding weeks meeting. Even I kept my mouth shut. I hadn't expected the analysis in a week's time. This non response, however, is what Eileen interpreted as the Board's putting off the analysis till the next school year.  I'll straighten this out.

In the afternoon I headed over to our public television station, WDSE, for the Almanac North taping. I had tried to call Pati earlier to offer her a ride and make a peace offering but I missed her. Mike Akervik was our third board member in the panel while a parent was a fourth guest.

Pati was by far the most garolous of the bunch. She started out immediately worrying that I'd go on and on about my two high school proposal. That was a perfect opening for me and I quickly said that while I thought the idea had merit I understood that I was in a minority and that the Boardwould not be closing a high school next year. That's all I said on the subject. I was very succinct. After the taping Pati thanked me for my statement.

I remained succinct for the next twenty minutes. When I got a chance to get a word in edgewise I outlined the worst case financial scenario. Later, when Mike Akervik suggested that Administrative cuts were in order, I repeated my history of the 5 million dollar debt which developed after the last excessive management cuts. 

Finaly, Claudia and I attended her last Christmas Party at Woodland Hills Treatment Center. Claudia has been on their board for 9 years and served this past years as the "past President" before stepping off the Board. She was lauded over and over for her remarkable leadership. Its true. She's thrown herself into the work with a vengence.

Woodland Hills has become a uniquely effective and humane treatment center for self destructive kids. Their method is "positive peer pressure" and the kids themselves are the chief vehicle for change. First kids are faced with the truth of their behavior. Their judges are other kids who can see through the smart-ass, self-denial and con jobs of other kids. 

Every Christmas the kids decorate, act as hosts, cook the dinner and serve it to the Board members and staff. A staff member told me that one of the little fellows who served us with gusto and panache had been used by big kids in his neighborhood like a pit bull. He and another small kid were tied to each other and paid to fight till one of them dropped. The big kids organized huge betting parties where thousands of dollars exhanged hands. The kids left standing would get a paltry twenty bucks.

Every year the dinner is capped off by a few of the kids who tell us a little about their lives. These Christmas stories have been among the most poignant and compelling I've ever heard. They are honest and terrible but hold the promise of a new life.

By the third speaker, an eighteen year old Duluth girl, my eyes were oceans. From her youngest years she had bounced around the social service and juvenile justice system making no long lasting connection with anyone. In fact, she was an experiment for Woodland Hills. She was the first person they had ever accepted from the adult corrections system. After a relatively short period of fighting everyone she found herself in surroundings unlike any she had been in before. She was able to let go of the street tough she had become. She almost couldn't get started but after a shaky  start she was determined to tell us her experiences. She was grateful to have had her inner core of decency pried out from under a hard shell of scars and personal injury. 

The real test of Woodland Hills is whether its young people actually return to their homes but change their ways. The children they send out into the world are still tender and vulnerable. A few years ago they started following up on their kids. The results have been encouraging. 

There are so many of these kids. We need a lot more Woodland Hills!