How yesterday started

Yesterday I got a lousy night’s sleep. They seem to have come back again with the beginning of the School Year after a relatively blissful summer. Coincincence I’m sure.

During one of my sleepless hours the night before I’d made up my mind to visit Congdon Elementary School that morning at the beginning of its school day. I’d gotten the sense that the school was a little more disordered in recent years due to myriad changes in the School District. But all those sleepless hours resulted in me waking up at about 7:15. (I don’t often set alarms anymore) By the time I’d fed the cats, completed morning chores and cleaned myself up it was ten to 8. I was afraid the busses had long since dropped off the children but I drove over anyway. For the past six months I’ve been making up for the hideous first two years of my service on the School Board. I had stayed away from schools lest employees be brought under suspicion for being seen in my presence. I know that sounds, well paranoid, but it was a concern I had. Twenty years ago I used to joke with another school board member that our school board’s slogan ought to be “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean people aren’t out to get you.” If its any comfort to my readers, and it shouldn’t be, I always worry that everyone in the District is paranoid about me especially what I might write about them in my blog. Mostly I give our employees a pass. As for my fellow elected officials……..I just write what I see, experience or hear tell about them. We are the elephants fighting in the African proverb about trampled grass.

When I got to Congdon it was quiet as a mouse. I’d only seen one parent I knew crossing the parking lot to get to the school. I signed in and introduced myself to the Office denizens and explained my intention and my failure to get to the school before the busses. I told them I’d walk the halls for a few minutes and make sure to get to Congdon earlier next time. On my way out of the office I followed one of the staff members to her office. When I asked her what she did she told me she was working with the homeless children. That rang a bell. I asked her if it was her name on the new emmployee list I’d perused at Monday’s Human Resources Committee. She affirmed that this was the case.

I asked her how many homeless kids went to Congdon. Forty she replied mentioning that there were about 80 such children at Myers-Wilkins (the old Grant School) and some more at Piedmont Elementary.

We spoke for about fifteen minutes before I went on my way. What I was assured of was of great importance to me. These kids going to Congdon, Myers Wilkins and Piedmont are allowed, encouraged even to continue on at the same schools no matter where they may move to while living in Duluth. That’s called stability and transient children need this desperately.

This is a vast improvement over the situation that existed when I was first on the School Board. I’d agonoized over “transient” children in those old days. These were kids who might find themselves in a half a dozen different school within a single school year as their rootless, homeless families wandered from residence to residence or even the back seat of a car – if they had one. Back then Congdon, being situated as it was in the posh Congdon neighborhood, didn’t have many homeless kids. Today it does and even handles more than its “share.”

My walk around the hallways afterward reminded me of the old orderly Congdon. Some of the teachers from Congdon I’d met at Denfeld on August 30th averred that class sizes were a little too generous but I saw no evidence of chaos in my walk through. Whew! That “Whew” said, its still early in the school year.

Among the news stories mentioned in the previous post that had me in their grip was one about Minnesota’s poverty rate reported by Minnesota Public Radio. The story reports that Minnesota has the second lowest poverty rate among the fifty states at 9.1 percent. Having mentioned homeless students I should add that Duluth’s poverty rate is significantly higher than the rest of Minnesota’s rate and that poverty affects children on average more than the adult population.

The DNT had a chart of National poverty rates going back to 1960 that I couldn’t help but contrast with the Op Ed piece the Tribune commissioned from the conservative blogger, John Hinderaker, of Powerline.

Hinderaker makes the case that the reason for Minnesota’s falling from the top to the middle of prosperous states is because of a couple decades of high taxes. I’m not so sure. Republican legislators have managed to fight state tax increases pretty successfully for the past fifteen or so years of this new century. A case could be made that the taxes not spent in education and fixing up old infrasctucture blunted our economic growth. As evidence I’d offer Minnesota’s economy from the 1970’s through the 1990’s during which Minnesota’s growth exceeded that of most other states while we were one of the five or six highest taxing states.

Furthermore, the MPR story about the nation’s declining poverty that ran in the DNT also included an intesting graph showing the decline and leveling off of the nation’s poverty rate from 1960 to today.

Hinderacker might be advised to look at the steep decline in poverty from 1960 to 1970. That was during LBJ’s War on Poverty and judging by this evidence it did a marvelous job lowering poverty rates until 1980 when the Reagan Revolution, with its War on Welfare Queens, left us with a mildly fluctuating poverty rate plateau of 12 percent. That’s half of what it was when Jack Kennedy was elected President. Its been stubbornly stuck there ever since.