Friends in strange places

The Duluth School Board is and ought to be paranoid about voters who distrust it. We should be especially concerned about driving more of them to paranoia. That fear was on my mind when I wrote an op-ed piece a year ago lamenting the continuing 709 feud with Duluth’s charter school, locally known as “Edison.”

I grew up with the Roger’s and Hamerstein song “getting to know you.” I sang it often to my Mother after she lost the capacity to talk. I write the following 1000 words with the song’s sentiment firmly in mind.

I gently disagree with one sentence in an otherwise excellent DNT editorial published on Monday. The sentence?

“How we got to this troubling level of inequity isn’t nearly as important as what we’re doing about it and what we’re going to be doing about it – as a community”

The editors give short shrift to history. As we can see in black/white relations history is critical to understanding why race is still a subject of miscommunication 150 years after slavery ended. It won’t take 150 years to get over the Red Plan but if anyone thought we were over it that hope was dashed with the attempt to remove Art Johnston from the School Board for asking about Red Plan funding. The DNT editors need to understand that the “inequity” in our schools today, started with the Red Plan. Today it steals $3.4 million in equity relief from ISD 709 every year. Ironically, the Red Plan was meant to undercut Edison. It failed miserably. Now, more than ever, we need the help of Edison for the ISD 709 schools. Simply put, we need Edison parents to vote to renew our $1.8 million operational levy. What’s more we need them to vote for a bigger operational levy for ISD 709.

Duluth voters could triple our existing $1.8 million levy. That would be about $3.6 million dollars. THAT IS A HUGE COINCIDENCE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Our brilliant Red Plan school board so alienated voters that when they ran out of money they stole (legally) money from our General Fund to pay for more borrowing. Today we are transfering $3.4 million annually for this purpose. We laid off the equivalent of 37.7 teachers to pay for nice new schools. That’s almost the same figure as the additional money we could raise in a referendum – if voters trusted us.

That won’t happen if we keep thumbing our noses at an ever increasing population of Edison supporters (and voters). I explained this in a January 2015 post: (The “Bill” is Bill Morris, a Minnesota pollster)

“I asked Bill about parents who had children open enrolled out of their district or who were attending parochial, charter or private schools. Duluth has a lot off all three categories. The news he offered was not good for ISD 709. He told me these parents became openly hostile to public bonds because they considered the public schools as their children’s school’s competition. The swing is dramatic. While 80% of elementary children’s parents tend to vote for levies it changes to 80% voting against when their children attend other schools.”

That should give the willies to every ISD 709 teacher with five or six extra Red Plan students crammed into their classrooms.

The Edison parents have been remarkably patient with our ungenerous, paranoid, School Board. I think they must be suffering from “Stockholm Syndrome.” They have been so abused for so long they are desperate to prove they don’t have a grudge against ISD 709. That won’t last forever but I think its still exists. And to that point I got a big surprise at Tuesday’s Denfeld meeting when my grandson’s Northstar teacher came into the Denfeld meeting.

When I saw her yesterday while picking my grandson up at Northstar I mentioned my surprise. She told me that, in fact, the largest contingent of parents at the Denfeld meeting were Northstar (Edison) teachers and parents. Their children attend Denfeld and they are as concerned about the inequity in western schools as anyone else in Duluth. Some of them love Denfeld’s diversity and have chosen to send their kids to Denfeld over East. When I heard this you could have knocked me over with a feather.

Now I’ll get even more personal. My daughter, a proud 1999 East High school graduate, teaches at Northstar. She can’t wait for an Edison High School but she is a public school booster. (Northstar is a public school). Like me she is soured by the selection of Betsy DeVos to be our nation’s Secretary of Education.

We need to think long and hard about our foolish assumptions lest we make the mistake of bringing our “self fulfilling prophecies” to life. The simple fact is that even with another 350 students an Edison High School will not so deplete Denfeld that it will cease to exist. That’s especially true if we give Lincoln and Denfeld the resources they need to keep their families happy and help keep them in the running for new students.

Oh, and I’d like to share the Facebook rant that my Edison teaching daughter passed on:

“Sad day for public education in the United States. The U.S. House of Representatives has introduced Bill 610. This bill will effectively start the school voucher system to be used by children ages 5 to 17, and starts the de-funding process of public schools.

“The bill will eliminate the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESSA) of 1965 which is the nation’s educational law and provides equal opportunity in education. It is a comprehensive program that covers programs for struggling learners, AP classes, ESL classes, classes for minorities such as Native Americans, Rural Education, Education for the Homeless, School Safety (Gun-Free schools), Monitoring and Compliance and Federal Accountability Programs.

“The bill also abolishes the Nutritional Act of 2012 (No Hungry Kids Act) which provides nutritional standards in school breakfast and lunch. For our most vulnerable, this may be the ONLY nutritious food they have in a day.

“The bill has no wording whatsoever protecting special needs kids, no mention of IDEA and FAPE.

“Some things the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESSA) of 1965 does for Children with Disabilities:
-ensures access to the general education curriculum
-ensures access to accommodations on assessments
-ensures concepts of Universal Design for Learning
-includes provisions that require local education agencies to provide evidence-based interventions in schools with consistently underperforming subgroups
-requires states in Title I plans to address how they will improve conditions for learning including reducing incidents of bullying and harassment in schools, overuse of discipline practices and reduce the use of aversive behavioral interventions (such as restraints and seclusion).

“Please call your representative and ask him/her to vote NO on House Bill 610 (HR 610) introduced by three Republican reps.

“***Please consider copying and pasting this post (rather than hitting “share” so it isn’t limited to the friends we have in common). Thanks for advocating on behalf of our nation’s youth and their families.”