My call to arms in the Reader

Let Duluth Vote – We insist!

By Harry Welty

The $293 million Red Plan may be the best plan for Duluth’s schools. The School Board’s intention to shove it down our throats without a vote is the worst way to make it happen. Superintendent Dixon says the School Board is not obligated or inclined to have an election. Furthermore, he said that if there was an election it would be “non-binding for the Board.” Well, so much for Johnson Control’s survey of Duluth voters. The School Board doesn’t really care what we think.

For a hundred years Duluth voters have had the right to vote new school building plans up or down. In 1989 Duluth voted down a much smaller $55 million plan. A year later they voted down a $35 million plan. The next year the district offered an even smaller plan which allowed voters to object with a “reverse referendum.” Voters could have petitioned to put the small proposal on the ballot. Voters were satisfied with the more modest proposal and allowed it to go into effect. This year, Johnson Control’s lawyers have seen to it that there is no such safety valve for voters worried about the massive costs of their Red Plan. This ingenious company poured over the law and discovered legal loopholes never before noticed and told the Board that no referendum would be needed for what may be the most expensive school building project in state history.

Then Johnson Controls wrote an ingenious survey and asked 300 people a lot of questions. They looked at the results and reported that 71% of the people surveyed didn’t care whether there was a referendum or not.

Johnson Controls then proposed an ingeniously vague $293 million proposal – something of a blank check really. No doubt the contract they hope to sign with the District in December will also be interpreted as ingeniously. They have very good lawyers and the School Board trusts them implicitly. When the company designed the new Ordean High School with only 250 parking spaces for the combined 1,500 East High and Central High student body the Superintendent announced that the School Board would just ask for a variance. Of course, a referendum would allow us to discuss things like this but the School Board doesn’t want us to trouble our pretty little heads.

Whether the Governor and the Secretary of Education will agree with Johnson Control’s ingenious interpretation of the law remains to be seen. The state has sixty days to decide whether state law does indeed allow Duluth’s voters to be stripped of their voting rights. What is clear to Let Duluth Vote is that 80 or 90 percent of the people asked to sign our petition demanding our voting rights are signing the petition.

We know that Governor Pawlenty insisted that Duluth voters get to vote on the sales taxes to build the DECC expansion last year. That plan was only one tenth the size of the District’s Red Plan. We hope the Governor will stick up for Duluth’s voters and not Johnson Controls’ ingenious business practices.

We insist on our right to vote. If you do too we ask you to cut out the petition on the opposite page and have your family, friends, co-workers and neighbors sign with you. We’ll keep taking petitions through November but we want as many back as we can get by the next School Board meeting on September 18th. Return them even if they only have one signature on them.

Only eligible voters who reside in the Duluth School District should sign and they should sign only once. Return completed petitions to the following people:

Brenda Anderson, 703 Ebony in Duluth Heights (***-****)

Tom Griggs, 3429 Minnesota Ave Park Point (***-****)

Harry Welty, 2101 E 4th St. (***-*****) Go to Harry’s back door for either petitions or lawnsigns.

Tim Grover, 3227 Celia, Piedmont Heights (***-**** or ***-****)

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