By Harry Welty
You, me, and Julio
down by the schoolyard
Gentlemen/Ladies: (of the School Board)
I have a suggestion regarding the renewal of the Superintendent's contract.
It is my understanding that a decision not to renew his contract must be made by the end of this month. This would mean that the new Board will have no say in this decision.
If it is contractually possible to decide against renewing now so that the new Board can make this decision, I suggest not renewing it now. The new Board should have a say in the matter
For what it is worth, I do not think his contract should be renewed under any circumstances. He has an agenda to make large schools under the guise of a budget crisis despite the public's opposition. The public wants small, neighborhood schools.
I'm a small neighborhood school supporter myself and I don't agree that Julio is against small schools. I suspect that most school administrators would prefer to have smaller schools if they had the revenue to support them.
All across Minnesota school districts have been forced to consolidate. Drive times to schools have gotten longer. Small schools in urban settings have been closed. Larger buildings have been built to house more students drawn from ever expanding boundaries. Duluth has been no exception.
When you qualify the phrase "small school" with the word "neighborhood" I'm pretty sure you are talking about elementary schools and not secondary schools which usually draw from several neighborhoods. If so, then your complaint against Julio is about his preference for small high schools over small elementary schools. John, I disagree with Julio too but I've never faulted his reasoning.
Julio would tell you that high school is a tough time for kids and that smaller schools prevent vulnerable kids from getting lost. He'd also tell you that elementary schools are better able to manage their young students so that they don't get lost as easily. No matter how big an elementary school is an elementary student's world largely revolves around one teacher and one classroom.
Before he arrived in Duluth Julio studied the city's recent history. He learned that all hell broke loose twenty years ago when Morgan Park High School closed. He learned that a little over a decade ago all hell broke loose again when it was suggested that Central High School be closed. Who can blame Julio for trying to keep hell at bay?
I'm a politician. I keep my finger to the wind. I thought that the voters desire to protect elementary schools and their resistance to taxes made closing a high school finally possible. Julio didn't buy it and Julio wasn't alone. Even now a majority of the school board agrees with him. Julio doesn't have much choice but to do what the majority of the Board tells him to do. Even though I disagree with Julio and the Board majority I think it's fair to say that they are entitled to their opinions.
In fact, if the recent referendum results can be believed, the majority of Duluth's voting public agrees with Julio. They have, after all, just approved tax increases to keep three high schools open for a few more years.
It's ironic that so many people in western Duluth have decided that Julio is a villain. After all, Julio never wanted to close any high schools, let alone Denfeld. It was only the Board's indecision which made him suggest closing Denfeld. More power to him! If he hadn't woken up western Duluth there would have been no SOS Committee, the levy would have failed, and one of our high schools would probably be closing next year.
Now, what should we do with Julio?
John, until I step down in January I'm still a school board member. Julio's contract coincides with my term of office not my successors. Most elected officials take their appointive powers seriously right up until the moment they are out of office. I am no different.
I like Julio. He's done a wonderful job in many areas: contract negotiations, management of his staff, the education of vulnerable students, student testing, and, believe it or not, fiscal management.
Chucking Julio out because West Duluthians have their nose out-of-joint is wrong-headed. Chucking him out because he's targeted elementary schools rather than secondary schools doesn't make sense either
Julio has his flaws. Among other things he's stubborn. He's willing to do unpopular things when he thinks it's the right thing to do. Just look at the East Hockey brouhaha. Still, I admire Julio's stubborn integrity. Some people consider that quality a sign of leadership.
On the other hand, I'm a pragmatist and I know that the Superintendent has been weakened by the popular mood which you have expressed. Frankly, it's not good for a school district to have a weak superintendent.
Julio has had several opportunities to leave Duluth for much more prestigious communities that would have paid him a lot more and been a helluva lot less trouble. That kind of self-sacrifice and loyalty are worth something.
I'll do what I think makes sense and is fair to Julio, the new School Board, the District, and Duluth. I'll be damned if I'll turn the Superintendent into a scapegoat for the School Board's indecision. Whatever I decide to do it will be tempered by the votes of eight other school board members.
Welty is a small time politician who lets it all hang out at: www.snowbizz.com