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Our view: Charge that Duluth school district 'abused' state law is over the top

No question here that Rep. Mike Jaros of Duluth knows well the state statute allowing school districts with desegregation plans to launch building projects without referendums. He did help write the law, making him more than familiar with the int...

No question here that Rep. Mike Jaros of Duluth knows well the state statute allowing school districts with desegregation plans to launch building projects without referendums. He did help write the law, making him more than familiar with the intent behind it.

But for Jaros to make an allegation as serious as the one he leveled this week against the Duluth school district with regard to that law was a little over the top.

"The School Board in Duluth abused and misused the law to move ahead with its red plan," said Jaros, a DFLer.

"The intent of that law was to be used for extreme problems that cities of the first class (Duluth, Minneapolis and St. Paul) have to deal with ... special problems involving segregation," he said.

Abused and misused? Attorneys consulted by the district as it formulated its long-range facilities plan, or red plan, offered no indication the plan was anything but well within the law's definition. A detailed scrutiny via the Minnesota Department of Education's review process and comment cycle similarly raised no red flags.

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"If there was any concern about how we used the statute it would have come up in that process," Duluth Schools Superintendent Keith Dixon said in an interview with the News Tribune.

Perhaps the district unwittingly slipped through a loophole in the so-called "lease-purchase statute." If so, a review by the state auditor, as requested by Jaros, ought to make that determination.

But taking advantage of a loophole, something that rightfully or wrongfully happens every day in the governmental and legal arenas, isn't the same as willfully skirting a law, which implies nefarious intent.

And while Jaros can correctly claim he knows more than anyone about the intent of the law because he helped write it, he cannot get into the heads of those who follow it to determine the intent of their actions.

To make sure the law matches the intent of what originally was drafted, Jaros and his fellow lawmakers have an opportunity and responsibility to tighten the statute and to close any loopholes.

That doesn't mean withdrawing the law completely, as a bill introduced last week by Jaros and co-author Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown, would do if approved. Such a withdrawal would halt the red plan mid-implementation -- which, it's reasonable to wonder, just may be Jaros' real intent.

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