Business Duluth Blog: Duluth Public Schools: Our Chance to Color Duluth's Future

You cannot pick up a paper or even read an e-mail these days without hearing strong opinions, both pro and con, about the School Board's efforts to revitalize Duluth's aging public schools. Unfortunately, while open debates on this and other comm...

You cannot pick up a paper or even read an e-mail these days without hearing strong opinions, both pro and con, about the School Board's efforts to revitalize Duluth's aging public schools. Unfortunately, while open debates on this and other community issues are a crucial part of community discourse, often these exchanges have not been approached in a healthy, civil, objective manner that takes a strategic and long-term view of the future.

Most of the arguments for and againstthe district's long-range facilities plan, or"red plan," have come under divisive headings like "Dixon, an outsider, should not be allowed to force plan." Whether you are a long-range facilities plan supporter or a red plan opponent, it is simply irresponsible to ignore the broader message that this needlessly contentious debate is sending to each of us, along with the rest of the region and state.

Duluth has an aging population in which about 20 percent of our city's residents are older than 65. For many years, we have seen an exodus of our young people as talented young adults move away to start families and pursue careers in other cities that appear to have more opportunities. It's not just Minneapolis, New York or Denver; we are in competition with other cities similar in size to Duluth including Sioux Falls, S.D.; Fargo, N.D.; and Des Moines, Iowa. So why are we losing many of our best and our brightest? Could it be that many of them don't see a healthy, compelling and vibrant future for Duluth?

With companies like our two health-care systems, Allete, Maurices, Enventis, Cirrus Design and more that are successfully recruiting specialized talent, we must also recognize that there are many young people moving to our community. And we're attracting young entrepreneurs who start businesses as well. Many are attracted by the quality of life we enjoy. Many come for an excellent two- or four-year education and stay. They find good jobs, pay taxes and raise their families. All the foregoing contribute to the economic prosperity we all enjoy. But make no mistake: Each is concerned about the future of our public schools.

Therefore, if anyone tells you that not investing in our schools is a great way to save money, I encourage you to question their motives. The reality is this: Having a sound public education system is a fundamental ingredient in fuel that drives economic prosperity. Vibrant schools equal a vibrant economy. If we want to have a future that is prosperous and one we're proud of, we need to resolve differences quickly and take the bold steps necessary to ensure that access to quality public education, delivered in sound facilities, continues to be a cornerstone in attracting and retaining young people to this market.


When visitors come to our community, whether they are folks who want to live and work here or businesses who are interested in investing in this region, we cannot afford to present the wrong perceptions about Duluth. Competition for economic growth is keen. Cities our size are putting their best foot forward to attract new businesses and high-paying jobs to their communities by showcasing their state-of-the-art public schools.

These include Des Moines; Spokane, Wash., Sarasota, Fla.; Allentown, Pa.; Huntsville, Ala.; and many others that were listed in the Top 10 U.S. Public School Systems list compiled by Expansion Management magazine in its April 2005 issue.

Is Duluth competitive on this front? What did people take away with them when they passed through Duluth this past weekend for Grandma's Marathon? Did they see a harmonious, civic-minded community where elected leaders are supported in even the most difficult times, or did they read headlines about backbiting arguments and provincialism? Did they see clean, vibrant schools that are safe and accessible for all students, or did they see outdated buildings and infrastructure in decline at the expense of our community's future?

Moreover, consider the extensive benefits for our local families who stand to gain more from this project than just better schools for their children. This project is not a $293 million bill we're facing; it is a $293 million investment we are making in our future, with work being done by local architects and contractors who hire local labor.

There's a lesson here. Whatever your stance, it is time for us to stop fighting among ourselves and work collaboratively to position our community as a positive, welcoming place for working families and their children. Otherwise, you can be sure that Sioux Falls, Fargo and every other progressive city in this country will open their doors and paint a brightly colored picture of prosperity that is far superior to our own.

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