Incumbent's View: Red Plan fight isn't over; funds needed for classrooms
I have much to be modest about when asking Duluth voters for a fourth term on the Duluth School Board. My determination to bring about equity, my candor, and my experience are, however, something I value deeply and which I think recommend my continuing service.
I ran four years ago determined to make the Red Plan a thing of the past. To my shock, my inquiries for public data, to lay old questions to rest, were met with fury, stonewalling, and, finally, hysteria. And the Red Plan was never dead. For 10 years, Duluth School Board majorities refused to acknowledge that their financing of the Red Plan would loot locally levied property taxes from the classroom for decades to come.
Twenty years ago, in 1997, my second year as a School Board member, Duluth school property taxes were $23 million; $9 million of this was for debt servicing, and $14 million went to the classroom. Today, local school property taxes are $31 million. But this year's Red Plan debt servicing takes $28.7 million, leaving only $2.5 million for the classroom. That is $11.5 million less for our classrooms despite an $8 million property tax increase.
If you care to do the math, our average teacher costs $90,000 per year. I will leave it to others to explain the insistence of some that the Red Plan is over.
What is not over is the loss of $11.5 million for the classrooms each year at a time when our district is expected to meet the needs of a growing poor and minority student population desperate for teacher contact time in order to bridge an infamous learning gap.
Like it or not, Duluth now has a nearly half billion-dollar investment in new schools to protect. Our board has refused good offers to sell derelict buildings, even though such sales were made a critical part of the Red Plan's financing.
I will do what I deem necessary to raise the funds we need to educate our children. I will, to the best of my ability, hold true to my conviction that voters should be offered referendums to raise the necessary funds. However, if given no alternative, voters must know that I may decide to vote to raise additional taxes even if the public has soured on providing them.
I can hardly blame the public. Ten years ago, district residents were denied a referendum on the Red Plan, and this was just after our state Legislature placed a heavier property tax burden on more modest homes than on those of the more affluent.
Not every child can do what Abraham Lincoln did: educate themselves beyond a meager few years of an elementary education to the law, to Congress, to the presidency, and to the rescue of the American nation. What Lincoln would have given to have been educated in the Duluth public schools!
We owe it to our children to remember President Lincoln's words: "with malice toward none."
Let's give our children an education we can be proud of.
Harry Welty is a candidate for an At Large seat on the Duluth School Board.
ABOUT THIS RACE
Five candidates are vying for two open At Large seats on the Duluth School Board. The top four vote-getters in the Sept. 12 primary election will advance to Election Day on Nov. 7. Commentaries from each of the candidates are being published Tuesday through Saturday this week on the News Tribune Opinion page. The five candidates are Josh Gorham, Bogdana Krivogorsky, Loren Martell, Sally Trnka, and incumbent Harry Welty.