A school board member's rant
Twenty months ago 2,000 angry people
flooded three successive School Board meetings to tell the school board
unequivocally not to close five elementary schools.
We told the crowd, apparently in error, that this was only
a worst case scenario. Now, after 20 months of avoiding the only practical
alternative to closing elementary schools, eliminating a high school, we have
apparently waited so long that we no longer have any option other than to close
five elementary schools.
Iíve been told that you canít boil a frog by putting it
into hot water because it will jump out. The way to boil a frog is to put it in
cool water and slowly turn up the heat. That way the frog wonít notice that
itís cooking until its too late. Well, I am a frog and I have been boiled.
While a majority of the school board seems prepared to
close a high school we still have no idea which high school is the best
candidate for closure. I have been too trusting. When I raised the subject 20
months ago I was ignored. After last yearís elections the Board Chairwoman
told me that weíd have to wait until the New Year to examine the subject. This
spring, when I raised the subject again, I was told that the Administration was
too busy to study the issue. I naively accepted all these delays.
Finally, last week, after delaying 20 months, the
administration offered us an analysis. Shockingly, we werenít given the pros
and cons of closing Central or East or Denfeld for that matter. Instead we were
given the pros and cons of four grade high schools compared to three grade high
schools. It was not a great surprise to find that the four grade 9-12 high
schools were a great improvement over their three grade counterparts. But this
was not the report we asked for. This was not the report I expected. This report
simply adds to the delay in deciding which high school to close.
Keeping ninth graders in our high schools requires us to
close five elementary schools. As far as Iím concerned no theoretical
advantage of a 9-12 high school justifies closing five elementary schools. We
closed five elementary schools nine years ago to save our three high schools. If
we close five more elementary schools it will mean that ten elementary schools
have been sacrificed to preserve three high school sports traditions. This is
too great a sacrifice.
I didnít get a good nightís sleep after our fruitless,
5 hour, Committee of the Whole meeting. I woke up grouchy. My humor was not
improved to find Pat Royís scathing Op Ed column in the Duluth News Tribune
which lambasted the School Board for financial stupidity. Now, I know Pat Roy
has a faux organization like Brad Bennettís FIGHT, and that she is a camp
follower of a previous school administration. Still, I have to give her credit.
I read her column several times and the only major disagreement I had with it
was her claim that we violated the stateís new ďStructural BalanceĒ law.
This is the new law that requires school districts to show that they can
afford a new teacherís contract. The Structural Balance law is so weak that
until we spend down our 10% reserve we can claim to be structurally balanced. Of
course, spending down the reserve would be sheer folly. It would put an end to
seven years of financial stability. We have to close schools!
I canít help but wonder why it is so hard to discuss
closing a high school. The strongest supporter for closing elementary schools
was handily defeated in last yearís election. One of her allies recently fled
town. Nonetheless, the drumbeat to close elementary schools continues. One of
our school board members is determined to close
If we have to close another elementary school I am prepared to vote for it. I am not prepared to cast this vote, however, until we have determined which two high schools to build our school district around. We keep talking about long term planning when what we have really been doing is long term avoidance. Donít expect much growth in the Duluth Schools as long as this situation continues. Frog legs anyone?
Welty is a small time politician who lets it all hang
out at www.snowbizz.com