Red plan critics gather momentum on two fronts

Critics of the Duluth school district's long-range facilities plan shifted into high gear this week. Neighbors of Ordean Middle School met Wednesday and collectively opposed the proposal to turn Ordean into the district's eastern high school. And...

Richard Paulson, a member of Let Duluth Vote, sits in front of dozens of letters supporting the Let Duluth Vote group and of which many offered financial assistance in the form of checks so that the group can obtain legal counsel to fight the Duluth School District's implementation of the Red Plan. [Derek Montgomery /]

Critics of the Duluth school district's long-range facilities plan shifted into high gear this week.

Neighbors of Ordean Middle School met Wednesday and collectively opposed the proposal to turn Ordean into the district's eastern high school.

And members of Let Duluth Vote say they're starting to get donations in response to solicitation letters they sent to raise money to fight the plan in court.

About 60 people showed up at a meeting Wednesday at Duluth Congregational Church to react to the most recent schematic design for the eastern high school on the Ordean Middle School site. The meeting concluded with one clear message for the Duluth School Board: Choose a different site.

The latest design plans attempted to rectify neighborhood concerns regarding property acquisition, a new access road and parking issues. Despite the concessions, neighbors said there are still too many problems with the site to deem it useable for a high school.


"To go from a 650-some-student middle school to a 1,600-student high school with most of those kids of driving age will just be too much of a burden for this neighborhood to handle," said Suzanne Canfield, an Ordean neighbor. "I know this has to be in someone's backyard, but I am hoping the School Board will look for a bigger one."

Several people at the meeting voiced concerns about the impact the high school will have on traffic congestion, property values and the environment.

Trina LeGarde, a Duluth Heights resident, said construction of the school could pose a serious threat to bald eagles that nest near Ordean. She said the district has not yet obtained a permit to build so close to the nest.

"If the construction causes the eagles to abandon the nest ... the school district could be held liable," LeGarde said.

Tom Kasper, a spokesperson for the Ordean group, had harsh words for the district should it choose to not ignore the eagle situation.

"If the school district proceeds on this site they are pretty much turning their back on the national symbol of this country," he said.

Still flexible

Several local government officials were in attendance at the meeting, including city councilors Jim Stauber, Todd Fedora and Jeff Anderson and Duluth School Board member Gary Glass.


Glass, who has been a champion for the anti-red plan movement, encouraged Ordean community members to keep fighting and reminded them that schematic designs for the site were far from final.

"Don't take this [schematic design] as a promise. It's still flexible," he said. "If you push hard enough maybe you can pop it out of here and it will go someplace else."

The someplace else that nearly everyone at the meeting suggested was Central High School.

"That site has everything you need," said Michele Benson, an Ordean neighbor who has drafted a proposal to move the eastern high school site to Central. "It's got the space, it's got the features in place, it's perfect."

Kasper said the Ordean group's next move would be to continue the dialogue with the Duluth School Board via e-mails, letters and School Board meetings to try to persuade them to explore other sites.

"We want to see the best education possible for our kids and if that can't happen [at Ordean] then it shouldn't be here," he said. "If they can show us otherwise, I am open to that discussion."

Let Duluth Vote

After months of relative quiet, Let Duluth Vote, the community group that has been fighting the Duluth school district's long-range building plan since its inception, has resurfaced in mailboxes across town.


The group is soliciting donations to wage a legal battle against the Duluth School Board that may be the community's best shot at stopping the red plan in its tracks, according to Harry Welty, a spokesman for the group. Just more than 10 days into the campaign, the checks are rolling in, he said.

"One hundred and

seventy-four people sent us letters just today. ... I was on Cloud Nine," Welty said. "There are a lot of people that want to stop this School Board. They're mad, and I think they represent about 90 percent of Duluth."

Welty later corrected himself and said the 174 letters were received Tuesday and that he got 78 more on Wednesday.

Some of the letters have been critical of Let Duluth Vote's efforts, but the majority contained checks to support its efforts, Welty said.

Legal strategy

The group thinks there are several legal issues that could be challenged in court. One, though -- the inspiration for the group's name -- reigns supreme.

"The one that is closest to my heart is the loss of our vote," Welty said. He said the state law that allowed the district to circumvent a public vote on the red plan may go against the 14th amendment.


"There is a requirement in that amendment that says states must treat their citizens with equality before the law, and in this case the people of Duluth ... have been denied the right to vote on something citizens in every other Minnesota city can vote on," Welty said.

Duluth Superintendent Keith Dixon said the district had spoken with the attorney general's office in the past and was assured its actions were within the parameters of the law. He added that the Minnesota Department of Education had reviewed and approved the plan and the financing mechanisms that went with it.

"We certainly believe we have done everything according to the laws and statutes," he said.

So far Let Duluth Vote has sent mailings to about half of the households in the district, and Welty said it plans to get the rest out soon. He wouldn't say how much the group wants to raise or how much it has received, but he did say it would be great if 5,000 Duluthians chipped in. The mailings ask for $10 per household.

The group hopes to have a lawyer in place in February.

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