Whetting voters’ appetites for the next school board election

Harry Welty

A friend sent me an email this morning. She began asking me what I thought about the Duluth Schools when I had my ear so close to the ground that I was in danger of suffocation. She asked a good question today:

Just read this [June 24, 2021] DNT story: Duluth School Board approves $31.5 million for new admin building, transportation center, and I couldn’t help writing you, Harry!

So … if the declining enrollment continues, some existing schools may close. Couldn’t they use one of those for the school board building? And … they may have to go to one high school, haven’t I heard that suggested by a former school board member?

Over my quarter century of being on the inside and outside of the Board, I have collected enough stories to write a book. Some people even paid me good money to when I promised to write one. After I broke my promise I refunded their money. I think there’s still a book or two in me about the subject. Its addictive. I was even tempted to run for the School Board again this spring. Old habits die hard.

I like the idea of ending my political career with a 20th campaign but it won’t be this year. I promised one of the candidates I wouldn’t run. Considering that our nation’s democracy and the Earth’s well-being are under grave threat Duluth’s public schools may seem like small potatoes. But even in the face of such perils I agree with former House Speaker Tip O’Neil. “All politics is local.” In 2017 the year after Donald Trump became president, traumatized voters desperate to clean house only had the School Board to take aim at. I got the axe. Life and politics abound with irony and humor.

This year in the aftermath of the Covid 19 quarantine few people had much stomach for a school board campaign. Too few people filed for the Board in June to hold a primary. One candidate is completely unopposed and one of the two at-large incumbents is assured of reelection. Both could return if Loren Martell fails in his latest attempt to run for the Board. Headlines like the one in Sunday’s Tribune might make the incumbent’s re-election a challenge.

There is plenty of time for me to dish about these races but frankly I’m more interested in a discursive look educational odds and ends. Frankly, a change or two on the Board is unlikely to have any dramatic effect on our children’s schools. Nonetheless, in the weeks ahead I’ll write about whatever catches my fancy. There is no shortage of subjects. Among the things worth a word or two are the following:

• The woman who contacted me to tell me during the “me too” brouhaha that our Red Plan Superintendent Keith Dixon made sexual advances toward her when she was in her teens and then used his school administrative position to persecute her when she demurred.
• The unlikely possibility that the resignation of a famed high school Hockey coach will have the affect on the 2021 election that my fellow Reader columnist John Gilbert says took place in my last school board election of 2004.
• My experience tuck pointing my 80-year old house only to watch the easy spending Red Plan retuck the 20-year old East High School gymnasium addition.
• My learning French at age 70 while our District cut its own french program.
• My qualified enthusiasm for online learning as an alternative to classroom time which, should it come to pass, will likely depress classroom numbers in schools already shrunken during the Corona virus scare.

That’s just the tip of an iceberg.

I began thinking about education long before my first run for the School Board in 1989. During the three unsuccessful elections it took before I was finally elected to the school board I spent weeks researching the Duluth Schools in the Duluth Public Library. One of the most interesting documents I found was produced in the mid 1950’s with the baby boom in full swing. The war was over, the economy was humming and Duluth was planning for the school facilities it would be need to educate a bumper crop of children.

In the 1950’s Duluth’s population was over 100 thousand citizens. Century old Schools from the days before bussing and birth control would be crammed with children. The economic boom gave Duluth the confidence to shutter old schools and build new ones. Duluth’s population was shifting east with white collar affluence. Duluth would continue to have an elementary school for every 20 square blocks. With 40 buildings it was less than a six block walk to school for most children. The same was true in my Topeka, Kansas, except for black elementary students like Linda Brown. She/they had to walk past white schools to get to the nearest black elementary.

In 2005 a new Superintendent of the Duluth Schools and his board used novel legal interpretations of state statutes to repeat the 1950’s again only without the voter buy-in of a public referendum. Dixon’s been gone for a decade now but his Red Plan lives on in overcrowded classrooms with too few teachers.

Yeah, I could write a book but for now I’ll just feed 800 words to the Reader each week until November’s general election.

Harry Welty only shuts up to practice French ... both kinds! You will find him at www.lincolndemocrat.com.