Some hard truths from a man of good will

I was still smarting from having lost my first campaign for the school board in 1989 when I sculpted this out of snow. I would lose two more elections for the school board before finally winning a seat at the table.

Back then the building was called the CAB or Central Administration Building. Today its called HOCH or Historical Old Central High. The sculpture suggests that there has been an air of controversy about the Duluth Schools for a very long time. The big fellow on top of Old Central I called Phil. The little fellow joining him in raising an angry fist is my son Robb, then all of five years old. That’s the same age as my grandson who stars in the preceding video. Today Robb is in this third year of a Doctoral program in Chemistry.

Robb was never very happy about the attention I brought him as Duluth’s foremost snow sculptor and iconoclastic school board member. I don’t think his teachers ever punished him for being the son of a School Board member even when I got national attention for my voodoo stunt. But my school board work kept him in the spotlight from 4th grade until his graduation which he pointedly skipped because I was the one designated to hand him his diploma.

I can hardly fathom that my previous record has been surpassed by recent events even if they have failed to draw national attention. The Trib’s photographer, Steve Kuchera, snapped an animated me at the school board meeting when our Board decided to kick Art Johnston off.

Perhaps the singular difference between me and most school board members is that when calamity hits, say an imminent teacher’s strike, or a thousand angry parents rage against school closings, or a top hockey coach is about to be fired I’m not inclined to hide in a janitor’s closet. I blame my Mother who told me repeatedly when I was small not to cry when I skinned my knee because my Grandfather was shot in a war and he didn’t cry.

In two days we will have an election to replace three school board members (old friends of mine) who hid in a janitor’s closet rather than acknowledge a bitter truth. They so preferred the closet that they even ginned up a malicious excuse for removing a colleague they didn’t much like who asked too many questions. The bitter truth is going to haunt us for half a generation to come. It is this: Before the Red Plan we spent twenty million of our locally raised property taxes in our classrooms. After the Red Plan we spend ten million of our locally raised property taxes in our classrooms. That annual ten million loss to our classrooms will end when we’ve paid off the Red Plan. So much for “moving forward.”

In the meantime our students still melt away to other school districts. Our Western Schools have become the province of Free and Reduced lunches. We have overcrowded classrooms and diminished course offerings. No amount of happy talk will alter this. Replacing three people with their heads in the sand with three like-minded candidates is not what I would call a sure-fire recipe for success.

The photo of my son with Phil on Old Central comes from the web page I set up to run for the school board two years ago. I haven’t looked at it until I googled “Harry Welty” last night and clicked the “images” option.

The first paragraph on this page is pretty hyperbolic but also sort of prescient:

“If I get elected to the Duluth School Board to save our schools, after eight years worth of well intentioned idiocy, it could be like winning a deck chair on the Titanic. Our schools are foundering and in one year, two at most, they will probably sink to the bottom of the Atlantic.”

I only promised one thing in that campaign – that I would practice a simple rule of thumb. “Honesty is the best policy.” I hope this blog has generally lived up to that standard.

Our challenge is nothing less than finding some significant portion of the annual lost ten million dollars the Red Plan diverted from
Duluth’s classrooms. There are three school board candidates I hope very much to have at my side as we go treasure hunting.

I will be passing out flyers for them door-to-door this afternoon and tomorrow. Two days ago my cell phone’s pedometer told me I’d taken 32,000 steps passing out flyers. My 64-year old knees are pretty sore but as my Mom told me all those years ago – my Grandfather was shot and he didn’t cry.