A follow-up: Schools missed chance to heal Red Plan woundIn April, I proposed in a commentary in the News Tribune that an open public forum be held in Duluth on the Red Plan, the discussion to include how decisions were made to spend more than $311 million without allowing Duluthians a vote (Local View: “Frank Red Plan dialogue needed to heal community,” April 26).
By: Damien Cronin, for the News Tribune
In April, I proposed in a commentary in the News Tribune that an open public forum be held in Duluth on the Red Plan, the discussion to include how decisions were made to spend more than $311 million without allowing Duluthians a vote (Local View: “Frank Red Plan dialogue needed to heal community,” April 26).
I made the proposal because I was, and I still am, concerned about the fallout from denying a public vote. There are still feelings of alienation among thousands of local taxpayers and animosity toward the Duluth school district. I hoped an open forum on a single topic — the Red Plan, how it was implemented and its negative fallout — could lead to healing. I even hoped the superintendent might see his way to offering apologies for the process, to reassuring Duluthians it won’t happen again, and to asking the alienated to come back to the district and become its supporters. I believed such a forum was needed to clear the air, and I still do.
To this end I asked Mayor Don Ness to moderate and Superintendent Bill Gronseth to participate. The idea, initially, seemed warmly received. But what started as an open public forum soon sounded to me like it was going to be a sham forum that would deny the public a chance to participate while trivializing and ignoring significant problems the Red Plan caused and the administration’s responsibility to remedy those problems.
The forum never happened, leaving Duluthians still in need of being able to speak out about the Red Plan and be heard by the district administration and School Board.
Last month another Local View writer explained how he had to get thousands of signatures to force an independent review of the Red Plan, including the school district’s financial dealings with its consultant, Johnson Controls. One wonders why the district administration seems so reluctant to be open and forthright when it comes to the Red Plan.
I believe the superintendent has missed an opportunity to deal openly and honestly with regard to the Red Plan and its fallout. I’m sure in an open forum some hard questions would be asked and some criticisms would be heard, both deserved and undeserved. It might be messy at times. But it is part of being a leader that sometimes one has to face the heat. From a public forum could have come more understanding and even some apologies and assurances.
Had the administration had the courage and wisdom to participate, anger and distrust could have been lessened. That was not to be.
The elephant in Independent School District 709 is still alive and well-cared-for by the superintendent.
Damien Cronin of Duluth was born in Ireland and is a former Catholic priest. He was a college counselor and psychology instructor for 20 years at the University of Minnesota Duluth, becoming head of the UMD counseling office in 1988. He also taught psychology for more than 20 years at Lake Superior College. He retired in 2010.