The Fiscal peril for ISD 709

Twenty years ago I regularly expressed concern about the long-term financial security of ISD 709. I used to call myself a “Cassandra.” In 2010 I handed over that honorific to Loren Martell. Never would I have imagined that the Red Plan would plunge us into such a precarious situation that we would lose 30% of our students to neighboring school Districts, suffer a vast increase in our classroom sizes, and commit tens of millions of our general fund to paying off bank loans for new buildings.

When I quit the school board in 2004 I had erroneously concluded that Duluth would never close the extra high school we had so that we could move about $1.5 million annually to classroom spending and new programs. Today, after the last decade of fiscal insanity, we are spending more than double that sum out of our General Fund each year to pay off the Red Plan. In addition we have squandered two or three chances to sell the old schools we are saddled with even though the Red Plan’s financial promises were contingent on such sales. That’s another $20 million lost. Plus, the Dixon Administration spent down our ten percent Fund reserve leaving our district to live on fumes while putting us at risk every time a summer fiscal cold gave us the sniffles.

Last night I went to a meeting our district’s official committee for the minority community to discuss one such unanticipated sniffle – a threat from the Minnesota Dept. of Education to take $1.6 million in “Achievement and Integration” aid away from us next year. Although the DNT’s Jana H. wasn’t at the meeting she covered the story in today’s Trib. In short, Supt. Gronseth thinks the MDE will change its mind. If it doesn’t…..it will be one more lousy bit of news that our year long budgeting process failed to take note of and which will inflict one more of the “thousands cuts” we continue to endure.

And yesterday Jana covered Art Johnston’s long ignored efforts to refinance our killing Red Plan debt repayments which take that $3.4 million out of our classrooms. At our Tuesday meeting Nora Sandstad helpfully reworked the wording of a resolution that the Board had earlier rebuffed to direct the Administration to explore opportunities that might undo some of this damage.

My hope of finding a solution short of more taxes has dimmed but its great to see our School Board covering all the bases just in case we can bulk up our financial immunity from these summer colds.

By the way, while the DFL Club’s endorsees for the School Board have been largely absent from School District meetings both Kurt Kuehn, and Bogdana Krivogorsky have been near constant presences at them. I much prefer candidates who do the long hard research (like enduring butt-wearying, four-hour-long meetings) to those who want to join in on the blissful ignorance which has so often typified Duluth School Board members over the past decade.

And don’t forget to visit WeltyforSchoolBoard.com