I suspect many of my readers saw a recent photograph of one of Florida’s invasive pythons that had burst after attempting to swallow an alligator it had killed. It was the classic case of “your eyes are too big for your stomach.” This morning for about the fourth time in a row I woke at about 2am with ISD 709 on my mind. Another picture crossed my mind as I thought about our crowded classrooms. It was an x ray of a dead seagull. It wasn’t this one. I’ve googled for that x ray of my memories before and drawn a blank but this morning I found another one which leads this post.
My challenge as a school board member is convincing a majority of the School Board that we swallowed a live mole when we built the Red Plan. The families that have fled ISD 709 are like that little mole furiously burrowing out of the seagull. I don’t have any trouble selling these families that my metaphor makes sense but the 5-2 majority of the school board has willed itself to ignore the District’s heartburn. But the fact is simple. Our District doesn’t have enough money to pay for both bonds and enough teachers to keep our classes at a reasonable size. Because Bond finance has taken precedence we have children burrowing out.
But ignoring the pain and removing Art Johnston through a campaign of unfounded insinuation won’t solve the burrowing mole problem. I’ve told the Superintendent that in two years I expect to be in a majority on the Board. While I’m currently impotent in a two-person minority I’d rather start dealing with the mole now than wait until after the next election. I have little patience for blindness. My own father endured pain in his stomach for years before he finally, reluctantly, allowed himself to be examined by doctors. He died a year later of a slow curable cancer that could have been dealt with had he attended to it from the beginning. His younger brother, my uncle, was dumbfounded by my Dad’s unnecessary death. I wish my children had gotten to know their grandfather. I hope Duluth’s children will get a school board with open eyes. I’m just a hopeless dreamer.
I’m mixing metaphors now. Conflating my Dad’s death and a seagull eating a mole with the District’s fiscal problems is clearly overkill. Except that this Board is still trying to shelter itself from bad news. The Red Plan is over with, right? Not hardly! As long as we have ten extra kids per class the Red Plan is driving this district.
All I want is an honest accounting. Knowing that the Red Plan put us in this predicament doesn’t solve the problem but it frames the story. We need more money or, if the voters won’t let us have it, we need to figure out how we can teach our children with too few teachers. Maybe we bring volunteers into our schools in massive numbers to help our thin ranks of teachers . Maybe we treat our two high schools as a single school and encourage kids to travel back and forth between buildings. Maybe we link the schools through computer or interactive television so that Denfeld, with all its free and reduced lunch kids, can enjoy the same courses that the more affluent Duluth East kids have available to them.
I’ll confess that I am resentful. I’d rather cast that resentment at Johnson Controls rather than the School Board or the Superintendent but I’ll cast it at any handy object until we get cracking on solutions. I’m troubled that the slick salesmen that talked our previous board into buying the Red Plan and then pumping up the price by an additional $60 million without a public vote or a competitive bid got paid a king’s ransom for impoverishing our District. I know, I know. That’s looking backwards. But as the philosopher Santayana famously wrote: “those who do not know the past are condemned to repeat it.” Or, put it this way; seagulls who who don’t know moles are powerful diggers will get a bad case of heartburn.
The majority of the school board, which has just been told by the State Auditor that we paid $84 million in mysterious and unspecified “soft costs,” has treated the Auditor’s thin report as a vindication of the Red Plan. How they can think such a thing with ten extra kids per class, a halved music program and inferior programming at Denfeld I have no idea…….except that I do understand.
Their philosophy is simple: ignorance is bliss. They are like parents who don’t talk to their kids about sex because they don’t want their kids getting any ideas. Duh!
I may not be able to get any payback from Johnson Controls but I sure would like to publicly shame JCI and warn other school district’s that that Milwaukee corporation sold our children a bill of goods. I won’t rest until I have a majority of the school board on my side. If necessary I’ll heap contempt on them for attempting to remove Art Johnston, and protect JCI’s reputation rather than admit a terrible mistake was made.
I’m prepared to play nice and be respectful so long as I’m permitted to get a good look under the carpet where the JCI dirt has been hidden. I’m also prepared to play the part of John Brown (think Harper’s Ferry) if Art Johnston is not treated as the rightful representative of the voters who elected him in the Denfeld area.