Superintendent's view: Energy, resources must focus on the future of our schoolsAbout seven years ago, the Duluth school district embarked on a comprehensive project to reduce the number of schools in operation and update those that remained. Funding sources included operational savings from running fewer schools, energy rebates, a tax increase and revenue from the sales of unused properties.
By: Bill Gronseth , for the News Tribune
About seven years ago, the Duluth school district embarked on a comprehensive project to reduce the number of schools in operation and update those that remained. Funding sources included operational savings from running fewer schools, energy rebates, a tax increase and revenue from the sales of unused properties.
Today, most of that has been accomplished. Savings are being realized. Energy rebates are coming in. The district is running fewer schools and those that remain have been modernized. I’m especially grateful now for the upgrades to the safety and security systems at our schools, given the recent tragedy in Connecticut.
That said, one piece of the financing structure has been challenged. A downturn in the economy combined with changes in the real estate market is delaying the sales of unused district properties. The result is a tax increase to help sustain the district until those properties sell.
When I speak with people who were opposed to the school construction projects, they talk about how things might have been done differently. I understand that. There are times when I, too, wish we had the ability to go back and find another way to accomplish what needed to be done in a way that more people could accept. The Long Range Facilities Plan was developed with a good deal of optimism regarding the economic environment; perhaps there was too much optimism.
From a practical standpoint, however, the schools are nearly done, and there’s no going back. All but two of the schools are open and serving our children; they’re beautiful buildings and assets to our community. They’re here to stay, hopefully for decades to come.
Whether people were for or against the construction projects, most I talk with agree our energy and resources must now be directed to the future, not the past. We have challenges ahead that will affect our children for years to come. Our time and resources must be invested in creating schools that welcome, inspire and educate children now and well into the future.
How we create those schools is up to all of us — as a community.
Public schools across the country are taking on tough challenges in terms of budgets and funding, curriculum, school climate and dozens of other issues. Duluth is no exception.
Educators tend to “think kids” just about every day. After all, that’s our job. As we take on these challenges, we’re asking people within the community to “think kids,” too — in other words, to join in the discussion of those challenges, build on common beliefs and values, and work in partnership to create a roadmap to meet goals.
With that in mind, I invite everyone — parents, community and business leaders, teachers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors and others — to participate in a community-wide discussion and decision-making process about the future of our schools.
What do you want Duluth’s schools to be? What do you want Duluth schools to offer our children and our community? What are we doing well now? What could be done better? The goal is to discuss the challenges we face here in Duluth and to work together as a community to build on our common beliefs and values to create a strong, innovative roadmap to meet those challenges.
We’ve already held such conversations with teachers and staff in every one of our schools. Now, ISD 709 staff and volunteers will be meeting with people from across our community to discuss what you believe our schools should be and what you see for the future. Anyone who wishes to can share their ideas. No one is excluded. If you can’t attend a meeting I encourage you to share your thoughts electronically, by mail or by phone. We want to hear from you.
It’s my hope that everyone will take the opportunity to join in this important conversation and that, by this spring, our schools and community can move forward as a unified community with a common educational vision.
Bill Gronseth is superintendent of Duluth public schools.