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School Board Member's View: Not selling Central will put school district at great risk

Selling Central to be used by our 20-year-old public charter school offends a segment of Duluth, despite the fact that it is in the short- and long-term interest of Independent School District 709. That is why I voted to sell. It was not for Edison. It was not for Snowflake’s watershed. It was for the good of the Duluth public schools.

I believe the vote not to sell Central puts ISD 709 at great risk. Those board members who prevented the sale will have a lifetime to rue their decision. Why?

First, this year, the School Board will make $3 million in cuts, including health and science offerings during zero hour, the last remnant of our seven-hour-day that allows high school students to take an extra class. Such decisions, as well as the elimination of social workers, will prompt a further exodus of students from ISD 709. Having access to an immediate infusion of $14.2 million, which was what was offered for Central, would insulate us from the worst of these immediate and future budget cuts.

Second, while resentful teacher unionists will cheer this pyrrhic victory over charters, they soon may discover that in addition to the loss of the $14.2 million, they will lose $1.8 million annually should angry voters defeat a renewal of our operational levy. That would mean a future $3 million cut would become a $4.8 million annual budget cut. If this happens, it would further encourage students to leave ISD 709. Where might they go? Maybe to a proposed parochial high school or a new and expanded Hermantown High School or the new middle school planned for Lake County.

Third, at present, Edison only plans to build a high school on its Snowflake property that would handle 700 students. At present, there is no agreement between our two public school systems to limit the enrollment or growth of the Duluth Public Schools Academy, or DPSA.

Current School Board members who only have a four-year horizon, the length of their term of office, do not see Edison as I see it since I voted to bring Edison into existence under ISD 709’s control 20 years ago. I understood it to be a threat to the teachers union even then, as its founders did not want to employ unionized teachers. But the School Board allies of the Duluth Federation of Teachers cast the charter adrift to seek a new sponsor; denied it the chance to buy a small, unused school, leading it to build a much larger Northstar Academy; and then undertook a half-billion-dollar facilities plan in the sure knowledge that our new schools would lure charter students back to ISD 709. We can all see how well this worked out.

And now, by denying the sale of the Central High property, they are failing to take the opportunity to negotiate an enrollment cap on their “competitor.”

In 20 years, Edison’s leadership has never made a false move. I expect that a successful DPSA high school could become a powerful attractant in 10 years time. If so, there would be nothing to stop Edison from building additions to accommodate hundreds or even thousands of ISD 709’s discontented masses.

I voted to end two ancient wars, one over charters and one over the Red Plan and its calamitous aftermath. I voted to begin an era of respect and cooperation and to regain the community’s respect for our School Board.

The four-member majority of our School Board voted for continued conflict before a full accounting of the financial and educational consequences of their decision had taken place.

For that reason, the three members voting in the minority are calling a meeting of the School Board for 6:30 p.m. today in Old Central to revisit this vote. The public is welcome to hear our discussion and offer public comment.

Harry Welty is an At Large member of the Duluth School Board.

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