Not Eudora   By Harry Welty
Published July 11, 2003


As I was painting the railing along 21st Avenue East the day after our last school board meeting, a fellow in a pickup zipped past and yelled, “You’re a spineless bastard Welty.” I had already halted my painting for 45 minutes to listen to a very nice young woman explain to me how my vote on the hockey coach had been a mistake. Yes, I had to agree, I am a spineless bastard. Judging by the fact that only two people have filed for the school board in the first ten days since filing opened, Duluth has a real shortage of spineless bastards.

This School Board election could be a repeat of the last one, two years ago, when only five people filed for four seats. This assured three incumbents of automatic reelection. It’s probably a good thing that the Duluth School Board recently got permission from the legislature to slim down from nine spineless bastards to seven. From next January on our Board will only have three, rather than five, at-large members. This year there is only one “at-large” seat up for election. There will still be four district seats and two of them, including my district 2 seat, are up for grabs this fall. There will also be one other election for the First District to fill the last half term (two years) of Pati Rolf’s vacated position.

I would like to think that the reluctance to file for SB stems from public satisfaction with the Board. This just isn’t so. In fact, two years ago local School Board bashers paid for full page ads to encourage other people to run. The Duluth News Tribune wrote an editorial begging for school board candidates. Only Mary Cameron took up the challenge against the incumbents. Her easy victory suggested strong public dissatisfaction.

Why don’t people want to serve on the Duluth School Board? It wasn’t always this way. Twelve years ago there were over twenty candidates for the Board. But those were the good old days when the District simply faced looming deficits and everybody knew that all we had to do to solve our problems was cut the fat out of our spending. Then two years ago the public found out that “fat” meant school buildings and they stopped filing to run for the School Board. No one wanted to close a school.

In the last two years we did close one small elementary school, Birchwood, but that didn’t make much of a dent in our facilities. We currently have enough room in our buildings for roughly 3,000 more students than Duluth has. That’s wasted maintenance.

Once again there are calls for new Board candidates. The disciple of a previous Superintendent wrote a recent op-ed piece calling for candidates to challenge the incumbents for giving teachers lavish pay increases and failing to close schools. What kind of gratitude have our “lavish” pay raises engendered? Not much.

My son recently told me that the mother of a friend, a Duluth teacher, loathes him because she loathes me. She’s mad at me because I’ve dragged my feet on extending a pilot program at her school beyond the three years we originally authorized. Yet it’s been a simple decision for me. This year we laid off 75 teachers because we’re about five million short of revenue. Next year we may have to lay off even more teachers because we refused to cut costs this year for things like the pilot program.

Even those people who do contemplate running for the School Board have to ask themselves whether it would be worthwhile when issues come out from nowhere and blindside the Board. The Hockey brouhaha is a classic example of this misspent energy. I did a little calculation after it blew over. I figured that if I was paid an attorney’s standard hourly fee for my time talking to people about hockey I’d have quadrupled my annual board stipend in the two months it took for that controversy to work itself out. Talk about being a hockey puck.

At the last Board meeting the hockey enthusiasts wanted to talk with us once again about the issue. When the Board at first refused to listen they railed at us from the floor until we agreed to give them the microphone. For our patience we got an hour of sour abuse. One particularly eloquent spokesman (a fellow who is letting a hockey player from another city stay at his house while playing for Duluth East) told us that America ’s founding fathers would be ashamed of us because we were turning our back on the Constitution. Now that is a spineless bastard!

The HW in my new HW4SB bumper stickers will stand for Harry Welty. The SB, on the other hand, won’t stand for School Board.

Welty is a small time politician (spineless bastard) who lets it all hang out at: www.snowbizz.com  

For more than you can possibly want to know about the Mike Randolph controversy click here