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Dick Palmer: Area schools must face the facts

There is definitely a challenge facing area educators. Average citizens, especially in Duluth, Hermantown, Wrenshall and other area school districts, rejected excess tax levies this past Tuesday. Proctor voters easily passed their referendum, whi...

There is definitely a challenge facing area educators. Average citizens, especially in Duluth, Hermantown, Wrenshall and other area school districts, rejected excess tax levies this past Tuesday. Proctor voters easily passed their referendum, which was certainly a gift to the system. Long-range benefits, however, remain to be seen.
The overall results of all this spell out a simple fact of life, area taxpayers aren't convinced local schools need more money. Instead, voter interest seems to be at an all-time low. Voters, however, are not stupid. They realize that following the Sept. 11 attack on the United States, the economy is in the sewer, and additional federal and state tax hikes are sure to surface within the next year. You can't run a war on terrorism without spending dollars supplied by the taxpayers. Caution may be a principle factor in all this.
Recently, I have toured a couple of Duluth schools and more are on my schedule. The objective is to get a better handle on neighborhood demographics, school criteria and a changing social and economic climate that figures extensively in school goals. I am impressed with many of the programs going on, and I certainly realize that all schools and all neighborhoods are not the same.
Each has its own characteristics, own special needs, and each is part of an extensive school system that is commissioned to teach our young people in a changing world. All in all, the basic needs in the educational puzzle today are extremely complicated and require constant change, continual review and a whole lot of patience. My point: teaching our kids basic reading, writing and arithmetic may sound logical, but such a strategy is about as obsolete as Ford's Edsel automobile. Education today represents constant change, continual parental interest and a program of public information that is an absolute must if local districts are going to get taxpayers behind them. No, it isn't easy.
In northern Minnesota, declining enrollments triggered by a population exodus affect the bottom line. School aid formulas are based on per pupil units, and with fewer kids in a system, fewer dollars are put on the table. By contrast, physical plant costs remain constant. It costs just as much money to heat a near empty building as a full one. This is just one example of costs facing school district budgets.
What I am saying here reflects on basic economics. Duluth needs to close some school buildings, and they need to do it quickly. Area school districts, like Hermantown and Proctor, need to take a long-range look at their programs. We stand by our conviction that a campus arrangement between Duluth, Hermantown and Proctor school districts is possible. In fact, perhaps a single administration could run all three.
Laugh if you want, changes are on the horizon, and, hopefully, area residents will share in the decision process.

Dick Palmer is the former editor and publisher of the Budgeteer News. He may be reached by telephone at 723-1207 or by e-mail at rpalmer@duluth.com .

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