The letter that got me in hot water during negotiations


Mr. __________
Duluth, MN 558_ _

Dear Mr. ________,

Thank you for your thoughtful letter on the state of contract negotiations and teacher morale. As you’ve suggested I have a somewhat different understanding of where we are financially than you do. I’m not certain that my reasoning is "flawed,’ as you’ve indicated but I’ll try to explain myself and hope I sound reasonable in the process.

Regardless of what the Superintendent may have promised teachers about future contract settlements, before I was on the School Board, I am limited by the current realities. We have offered a settlement which would increase teacher pay by nine percent over the next two years. I believe this would keep teachers ahead of increases in inflation.

Whether the Superintendent has been able to satisfy the expectations of three years ago or not I can not say. I do know that he has helped turn this district around. Just before he assumed the superintendancy things were so bad that teachers had to accept a zero percent increase one year. Back then we were headed towards a five million dollar debt. We were paying out millions of dollars in interest to our creditors and not to our teachers. That is no longer the case.

The School Board has just two principal limitations regarding negotiations. First, we do not intend to settle a contract that requires us to spend more money than we take in as revenue. That would begin the inevitable road to debt. Second, we do not want to settle a contract that forces us to cut school programs.

I truly regret that you feel that there is little rapport between teachers and administration. I hate to admit it but I agree with you. No one wants that to change more than me. But I’d like to offer you another perspective on our troubles. You suggested that our teachers have been "intimidated" by our administration the test for that being a "letter in the file." I think we all know that "administration" is a code word for the Superintendent. Mark Myles tells me that he has never put a letter in an employee’s file and I’m inclined to believe him. I say that as a former Duluth teacher who did have a letter placed in his file.

Mark is a forceful person and not always as tactful as he could be. Being more inclined to diplomacy myself I’m painfully aware of this quirk in his nature. Having made this concession I’d ask you to put Mark’s shoes on for a moment. A friend of mine, a highly respected teacher, flipped Mark the bird a year ago. Has that teacher been fired for insubordination, or for failing to control his temper, or for being rude? No. That’s tenure and that’s the First Amendment. I think the idea that our teachers are cowering in their rooms for fear of reprisal is grossly overstated. On the other hand I know many teachers who keep their heads down to avoid attention. Is that intimidation or timidity? You tell me. Whatever it is, its unhealthy. We must all work together to change the climate in the Duluth Public Schools. Mark is as much a victim of this climate as anyone.

You also spoke of a "mob mentality" on the part of the School Board. Mr._______, there are nine of us on the Board! Inflated as our egos can be, it is a stretch to suggest that nine people constitute a mob. At the last school board meeting 150 teachers visited us. Most were wearing red shirts with buttons requesting a settlement of the contract. They were very well behaved and included some of my favorite people. Had they not been well behaved they could have formed a mob. It amazes me that anyone would seriously regard nine people serving four year terms at the pleasure/mercy of the voters, as having the power to intimidate two thousand, contractually protected employees. All we school board members have to do to dismount from our high horses is to look at the results of the last election!

I know that many people recall a glorious past in the Duluth Schools. I wasn’t here thirty years ago so I can’t say whether this represents rose tinted memory but I’m an optimist. I have every intention of helping make the Duluth Schools the best schools in the nation once again. My children have gone through them for the past decade and I’ve been very pleased with their progress despite some troubled times. I owe a debt of gratitude to all the teachers who have had a hand in their education and preparation for life.


Harry Welty
Board Chair
c Frank Wanner