Happy, Happy, Happy

This is the only important thing to read into today’s story of the happy and non adversarial settlement of the next teacher’s contract in Duluth:

Board member Harry Welty said he is worried about the district’s long-term financial picture.

“My great fear is that we are going to end up having a far bigger deficit with this contract settlement than we have extra levy money set aside for teachers, and we will soon be in the role of cutting teachers and increasing class sizes,” he said. “I can’t in good conscience vote for that.”

I also told the reporter one additional thing that was not included in my quote and it is one small part of the apology I feel I am owed. At no point has our Administration felt compelled to divulge the fiscal forecast for the Duluth School District despite my repeated calls for it. Two month’s ago they inadvertently showed us that with a much less costly teacher’s contract we were projected to be $9.6 million in debt by about 2017. I say about because that was a figure that was flashed up on a “smart board” for about ten seconds while the Finance Dept demonstrated their inability to run a power point presentation very well let alone display a spread sheet with numbers deep in the red. I’ll reiterate, our projected deficit has never made the light of day since that mistaken revelation despite my repeated requests. I wonder if I’ll get to see it before the our school board gets to vote on this upcoming fiscal calamity? Few school boards in their right mind ever settle a four-year contract. Fewer yet would do it without seeing a financial forecast. God forgive the District that would do it with the kind of classroom overcrowding that the Duluth School District endures. Now I understand what the Red Plan really meant.

Our Administration seems to thrive when it brushes aside reality for a good fresh breath of positivity. The $9.6 million deficit in the next three or four years will end up being closer to a $12 or $13 million deficit. That’s because this year our teachers will get a 3% pay increase instead of a 2% pay increase which was the assumption in that now veiled spread sheet which died and went to heaven. Oh, but you won’t read that 3% figure in the story. It says we are offering a 2% pay increase this year. Then it adds the camouflage. We are also paying out 1% because our school day for the secondary schools had been whittled down by an arbitrator a few years ago to 1,020 minutes less than the state of Minnesota expects us to teach our secondary students. To add some of that time back to the teaching year we are giving the teachers 1% over and above the 2% or (if I’ve added my fingers correctly) 3%. By the end of the contract in three years that will be close to another $2 million to the projected deficit.

So, you may wonder, how much will the projected deficit be offset by last year’s passage of a $1.8 million excess levy? Most of us voted for it to hire more teachers and reduce class size. Ah, but we will be spending $400,000 of the levy annually on other pressing problems. Right now we are devoting $1.4 million of it each year to class size reduction. By the time our new teacher’s contract leaves us with a $12 million deficit our levy will have contributed $5.4 million to reduce class size. That means we will have hired about 14 teachers with the levy money while we are forced to cut about 30 teachers due to the deficit which will balloon because of our amicably negotiated teacher’s contract.

No new teachers. No seven-period day. Music offerings continue to shrink. More kids in each class. That’s just swell.

Of course, I might be off a bit on the fiscal details. Did I mention that I’ve never been shown the details of the fiscal forecast?

Then again, why should the Superintendent and the Director of Finance bother to show this stuff to me? I’m only a school board member. Let me be the first to put a letter in my personnel file for incompetence. It’s what the public expects from us and I wouldn’t want to disappoint them.

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