At a time when students and taxpayers are counting on the Duluth school district and School Board for unity, leadership, innovative solutions and important conversations about overcrowded classrooms, disparities, money and other very real problems, what do they get instead?

Yet another squabble. No, that wasn’t a whistling lake breeze you heard this week; it was a deep, districtwide sigh of disappointment.

This latest brush-up - stemming apparently from a confrontation at East High’s commencement, of all places - certainly sounds serious enough with its allegations of assault, racist comments, abuse of authority, conflict of interest and ethics violation, and with its counter allegations of bogusness and a witch hunt. But only those involved - and witnesses, if there were any - know for certain.

Those involved owe it to students and taxpaying school district residents who’ve had enough and who’ve paid enough to reconsider. Is the independent investigation that School Board members voted Tuesday to launch

really necessary? The checkbook is open, remember, a suburban Twin Cities law firm is lined up, and the tab promises to get really pricey really fast. Lawyers bill for big bucks by the hour, after all.

With that in mind, Superintendent Bill Gronseth and School Board Chairman Mike Miernicki can ask themselves if there really was an assault, as is being alleged. Or was it maybe just a loud argument and some incidental, inconsequential contact or near-contact? And what actually was said? If it really wasn’t that serious, they could take steps to head off this investigation before its first check is written.

Likewise, the accused, School Board member Art Johnston, who always seems to be at the center of it if there’s a district firestorm, can ask himself whether maybe he did act inappropriately and whether his conversation with Gronseth and Miernicki did go a little too far. He can re-examine what he said and what he has done, too. And then, if he’s in the wrong and he knows that he’s in the wrong, he can do the right thing by his constituents and everyone else in the district by stepping down immediately before this investigation becomes yet another financial burden.

As stated above, the district is facing some very real challenges. Voters approved extra money last fall - lots of extra money - to combat overcrowded classrooms, and they’re still waiting for results. Also, despite fairness and balance being included as goals of the massive, districtwide reshuffling and reconstruction known as the Red Plan, eastern Duluth right now has far more students than western Duluth, meaning more classes and opportunities east than west. It’s an unfair imbalance that demands to be addressed.

A kerfuffle between Johnston, Miernicki and Gronseth very well may be another very real challenge. But district residents couldn’t be blamed for being skeptical.

They also couldn’t be blamed for being a bit frustrated right now. The Duluth City Council just got done debating whether to bring to Duluth ranked-choice voting, a confusing and controversial solution in search of a problem. And now this with the school district and School Board. It seems clear both bodies could be spending their time and energy in better, more productive ways, focused on those issues that truly matter.

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