Passion for Duluth schools crowds election fieldA dozen candidates are vying for four seats on the seven-member Duluth School Board.
By: Jana Hollingsworth, Duluth News Tribune
In 2007, a whopping 12 candidates entered the primary for mayor of Duluth.
This year, another dozen are vying for four seats on the seven-member School Board.
Three of the four incumbents bowed out after varying term lengths, and that probably had a lot to do with the large number of filers, said Gay Trachsel, a member of the voter service committee of the League of Women Voters, which will hold a candidates forum in late October.
“Usually when you have incumbents running, people don’t want to. People are happy with their representative,” she said. “In this case, because so many positions don’t have incumbents, you have more people. That’s a great tribute. People stepped up.”
The primary to pare the 12 down to eight is Tuesday. The seats open include one each for Districts 4 and 1 and two At Large seats. District 4, with three candidates, represents the western side of the city and District 1, also with three, represents a portion of the eastern side, plus Lakeside and the five townships included in the school district. The At Large seats, with six candidates, cover the entire district.
Passion for schools and the desire to bring something to the discussion of issues surrounding them also probably got many candidates to sign on, said Roger Wedin, director of policy and education for the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce.
“The district … has had its share of, I suppose, controversy,” he said, “with a lot of focus on both the physical plant aspect as well as its struggle with finances. There are a lot of folks out there that have been watching closely … Several of the names are familiar names and have served before.”
Depending on who is elected, the dynamics of the board could change dramatically. Three new members are assured, and possibly a fourth.
To Wedin, there is a loss of experience in School Board operations, noting that Ann Wasson is ending her 10 years on the board. It could also mean a shift in topics of debate.
“Some candidates have been highly critical of the school district,” he said. “It could become, if you will, a much livelier discussion of some of these issues that have been of concern to a couple of these folks in a very outspoken way for a long time. There is a possibility of a real swing … from one, call it an extreme, to another.”
Those elected, Trachsel said, should be willing to listen to Duluth residents and to each other.
“They have to be willing to work hard on getting good information and being prepared to make a decision on good information,” she said. “We don’t, as outsiders, have all the information. If you come in with an agenda, sometimes you don’t go forward.”
A new School Board is going to face the results of an operating levy vote, an ever-dwindling reserve fund, more yearly budget cuts and former school buildings still unsold.
If the first and second levy questions both pass, Wedin said, smaller class sizes, updates to curriculum and intense work on narrowing the achievement gap can be done.
“All the things that become more achievable when not pressured by a shortage of money,” he said. “If nothing passes, they will focus on more cuts. I’m sure School Board candidates are thinking about what route they’d be compelled to take if it goes one way or the other, or something in between.”