This page and those linked to it are primarily an archive from 2001. As of 2003 Duluth has still not determined which schools to close although it has become increasingly obvious that we have too many school buildings. 

Early in 2003 I wrote a column arguing against closing two elementary schools.

In Chinese the character for "Crisis" is the combination of the symbols for danger & opportunity. Thanks to Cheng-Khee Chee for his brush work.

Crisis in Duluth!

Five Elementary Schools to Close ? 

The 2001 Excess levy has failed. This is not the end of the story as a levy will probably be offered next year. In the meantime the School Board has no choice but to make drastic cuts. The Crisis continues.

News Stories on this page go back to last January when the "Crisis" began. Unfortunately, this format has not been very satisfactory. It lacks a narrative thread. I have decided to resume a diary now called

Why we would be crazy not to pass an  
excess levy  

I'm afraid we turned out to be crazy this year. The excess levy failed 44% to 55%. Maybe next year will be different.

Go to the latest email with my replies. (sorry, no one has written me since June)

Here's the latest news...

11-7-2001 The levy fails. Back to the drawing board

11-3-2001 Brad Bennett's FIGHT organization shameless and inacurate ad raising money on the backs of Duluth's children .

10-25-2001 Read the excellent analysis and endorsement of the excess levy referendum by the News Tribune editors 

10-24-2001 Poll shows the public is split on the excess levy. The state education tax law makes understanding levies confusing.

10-23-2001 The specifics are outlined as are the levy's affects on property taxes

10-21-2001 The News Trib editorializes that hard choices must be made.

10-17-2001 School Board asks Administration to lay out specific spending for the excess levy.

10-16-2001 Doubts about the Plan

10-12-13-14-2001 The three day planning process begins today. Also a brief history of the last thirty years of population decline in Duluth. Day 1 recapped. Day 2 recapped. Day 3 recapped

10-1-2001 The Crisis is about to end with a whimper rather than a bang. Few people sign up to go to the October planning meetings. 

9-13-2001 Fall meetings of parents approach. Two high schools are on the table.

8-17-2001 I will be Chairman of Mary Cameron's campaign for the School Board. Mary happens to be open minded about reconfiguring the Duluth School's facilities and some of her critics are already using this to sharpen their knives against her. 

8-10-2001 The meeting to select a committee of 12 is poorly attended and only selects six - so far - to plan the Fall Community meetings. 

8-1-2001 Why I stopped writing my School Board Diary

7-19-2001 The School Board's corridor plan will tend to segregate the school district by avoiding boundary changes, eliminating voluntary bussing, and creating three corridors to wall off different neighborhoods. This would happen at a time when the minority population is the only one growing in the city. If this happens Duluth will become part of a national phenomenon of increased racial separation. 

7-17-2001 The FIGHT ad lambasting the Board and my withering Reply
And the story about the Board's remarkable change or heart in considering secondary closings instead of elementary closings. The News Trib chimes in two days later.

7-14-2001 The plan to use of consultants to help the community determine what to do. I see no point in holding these $40,000 community meetings. The School Board has already made a decision to close elementary schools. I'm especially non-plussed by the first part of the meetings which seems intended to teach me how to behave as a school board member. If I haven't learned how to behave by now its probably too late. I'm getting to be an old dog.

6-19-2001 FIGHT - Brad Bennett's organization takes some pot shots at the Board

6-14-2001 Feud - How bad blood developed between the Superintendent and the Duluth News Tribune.

6-13-2001 The Superintendent's contract - an unhelpful diversion from an important debate and my letter-to-the-editor in reply. And, of course, the Newspaper's editorial warning the following day.

June My Zenith Plan vs. the Board's Corridor Plan - a comparison

5-22- The Duluth News Tribune criticizes the Board and Superintendent and my reply

5-19 "Steering committee's recent planning meeting was private. A small group has begun quietly preparing for a three-day planning session that could determine the future of Duluth's public schools -- including which schools could close."

5-18 an email reaction to my Zenith Plan from a critic and my reply

5-16 The School Board refuses to let the Administration analyze my "Zenith" plan which suggests that no matter what our Citizen's Committee recommends, the Board intends to close elementary schools. Two of the board member who are bent on closing elementary schools do, however, vote to spend money a couple years ahead of existing plans (in this time of financial trauma) on a Cadillac playground for the district's most affluent school.

5-15 I will be proposing an alternative school configuration plan tonight - The Zenith Plan

Wednesday 4-25 The Tribune reports the little story of inevitable teacher cuts instead of the big story - the vote to close elementary schools and keep three high schools.

Tuesday 4-24-2001 The Board Divided. How the long range plan, Board unity, and "group think" collided.

Monday 4-23-2001 Other school district's face financial problems also.

Sunday 4-22-2001 Tom Boman explains why three high schools is too many then explains that if we did things right, like the Swedes, we'd have three high schools.

Thursday 4-19-2001 Governor Plays Hooky
Jesse gets mad at the press and reneges on his scheduled Duluth appearance to explain his education budget.

Friday 4-13-2001 DFT Vice President Jim Falk places the blame for the crisis on the Edison schools.

Tuesday 4-10-2001 $1.2 million in administrative cuts detailed.

Saturday 4-7-2001 Two High Schools saves more money than elemenentary closings.

Friday, 4-6-2001 School Closings may be delayed for a year.

Thursday 4-5-2001 Ms. Doty Being Politic and Anthony's Mad Mother (another typical example of how I cause trouble)

Tuesday 4-3-2001 Almanza's Mar 30 memo re: plans for the 2001-02 school year. 

Monday 4-2-2001 By now four ex School Board members have commented on the idea of two high schools in the Tribune.

Friday 3-30-2001 City Council President Edwards encourages us to look at a two high school plan.

Wednesday 3-28-2001 The Great Leap Backward or how the Board made two high schools its only option other than SOD (Statutory Operating Debt). This just in: The teacher union's sabre rattling.

Wednesday 3-28-2001 Anne Bretts conveyer belt proposal and my reaction to being called "disingenuous." Maybe Tom West is right about me being "abrasive."

Tuesday 2-27-2001 George Balach Weighs In

Sunday 2-25 Editorial: K-12 funding / Untangling a persistent problem Is Jesse right or wrong about the "black hole" of K-12 education?

Sunday 2-25-2001 Harry Welty Out of his box A flattering column but why does Tom West keep calling me "abrasive?"

Thursday 3-22 Pati Rolf criticizes the Tribune for publishing the news before she was ready to have it public. The following Sunday the Tribune asks this question...

"Here's a quick multiple choice test: When do you want your local newspaper to tell you that the School Board is talking about closing five elementary schools?

A) As soon as the paper knows it. B) Whenever the School Board decides it's OK to tell the public what's going on."

The Tribune makes its point, of course.

Tuesday 3-20-2001 My 2 high school Proposal, the Tribune's Story

Saturday 3-17-2001 The New Plan

Thursday 3-15-2001 Brad Bennett's Critique or People who live in glass houses....

Tuesday 3-13-2001 Rep. Alice Seagren's Letter - two high schools

Monday 3-12-2001 or I survived the East Corridor Meeting

Wednesday 3-7-2001 Oops!!!  The Tribune explains our plan.

Tuesday 3-6-2001 I take one horrified look at a proposal to close five elementary schools and suggest we close a high school instead.  Dead Silence - The Crisis Begins


Howie Hanson asked me for my opinion of our situation. This is the message I emailed him: 

Hi Howie,

Here goes:

Our slow, deliberative, long range, planning process was hijacked by the Governor's stark, and stingy education budget. Our deliberations have now become a runaway train. We have no choice but to make significant cuts or changes next year that will make people unhappy. The proposal we are considering at the moment has some stunning plusses if you ignore the fact that half of our parents are threatening to pull their kids out of public school. It is fair. It keeps class sizes down. It keeps specialists in place. It avoids concentrating poor children in inner city schools. However, if a significant fraction of the parents make good on their threat to take their children out of ISD 709 much of the good this plan envisions will be undone.

A month ago at one of our Board retreats I suggested that we look at the only other significant alternative to elementary building closings - a two high school plan. After a profound silence one of my fellow Board members suggested that dallying to look at a two-high school plan, while our fiscal Rome burned, was "gutless." I still want to see what a two-high school plan would look like.

We closed five elementary schools in 1994 rather than one high school and now we are contemplating the shuttering of five more. It strikes me as a dirty, rotten, shame that we will be closing our tenth elementary school just to preserve three high schools. We have been a two-high school town for a decade now and that is unlikely to change over the next decade. By the way, despite being an East parent I have to admit that the best site in town for a new Duluth United High School is the Central Campus.

The elementary closing plan, despite its plusses, departs from another virtue I have campaigned for -- parental choice. There will no longer be a variety of schools to choose from. From now on everyone would get vanilla, French vanilla to be sure, but vanilla just the same. 

Having said all this I will support this plan, or one much like it, if I am not given any other options because bankruptcy is not an alternative. Time is running out.

Harry Welty

One of our Board members said we have a crisis. I respectfully disagree. I believe we face a challenge. If we do not act we will have a crisis.  Click here to go to the ISD 709 Long term Plan page with maps


I've received over 100 letters, about 700 postcards, and approximately 250 emails as well as fifty or 60 phone calls. One lady brought her grandchildren over to my table when my wife and I were dining out and begged me to keep their school open.  Here's what people are saying:

Round 1 email.   

Round 2 additional email.  

Round 3 even more email. 

Round 4 yes, even more email.