Candidate's view: Duluth School Board's spin won't workThe public school district and the people controlling the School Board are spinning again. Once more they’re lecturing it’s time to put the rancor of the Red Plan behind us and “move on,” for the sake of the children. From the beginning, they’ve used the children. This was all for the children. Anyone against the Red Plan was “old, cheap or stupid,” a phrase I heard more than once from Red Plan backers.
By: Loren Martell, for the News Tribune
The public school district and the people controlling the School Board are spinning again. Once more they’re lecturing it’s time to put the rancor of the Red Plan behind us and “move on,” for the sake of the children. From the beginning, they’ve used the children. This was all for the children. Anyone against the Red Plan was “old, cheap or stupid,” a phrase I heard more than once from Red Plan backers.
Actually, I do agree it’s time to move on, in this one sense: It’s time to make an accurate assessment of the situation and make this thing work. That doesn’t mean putting on a pair of rose-colored glasses and getting in line. That means being a pragmatist and realizing you have to work with what’s on your plate.
Let me make it clear if I haven’t already: I think the Red Plan was the worst functioning of government I ever witnessed firsthand. I think the process made a mockery of representative government. I think the plan itself was ill-conceived, over-the-top and foolish. But again, it’s on our plates now.
The biggest problem facing the public school district is that, after running up a bill of nearly half a billion dollars, the district is not competitive in the marketplace. This plan was supposed to make us the greatest game in town. Remember when all the kids were leaving, and the Red Plan backers assured us they all would come running back? Independent School District 709 lost more students this past year. That loss is not from a shrinking student population. Even the Red Plan’s own demographic study shows the student population rising this year.
Every educational organization in the area but the Duluth public school system is thriving. Edison put up a new school at a fraction of the public schools’ cost per square foot. Edison doesn’t have fancy atriums and aquatic centers and terrazzo floors. They have small class sizes and a waiting list to get in. Lakeview Christian Academy is excelling in an old castaway public school building on Central Entrance. It’s not the buildings that make education; it’s what’s inside the buildings.
We’ve now lost 188 full-time teacher positions since former Superintendent Keith Dixon stepped into town. Some class sizes are at an all-time high. The School Board points at everyone but itself. The state is its favorite scapegoat.
The News Tribune quoted the superintendent’s claim that state funding was flat or nearly flat for the past 20 years. That was a gross exaggeration. State funding was flat for two three-year periods, from 2003 to 2005 and from 2009 to 2011. If your revenue source is flat, you should, as a board, try to keep your expenditures flat. Since the start of the Red Plan, the School Board approved practically every expenditure in sight.
We have to rein in spending now. We have to get to some truth about the financial arrangement we’ve gotten into with the Red Plan. We have to make a sober and accurate assessment and start reprioritizing. Any pennies we can spare have to be directed to the classroom. We have to refocus on the core of education — curricula, teachers and teacher development. We have to quit blowing millions on everything else under the sun. We have a half-billion-dollar investment hanging out there. It was a reckless investment, but we’d better roll up our sleeves and make it work.
Duluth public school leadership is engaging in spin, as it often tends to do. The purpose of the spin is to sell a false narrative to the public and evade responsibility. That won’t get the job done.
Loren Martell of Duluth is a candidate for one of two open At Large School Board seats.