Three posts in one

I’ve got to go press apple cider. I’ll proof read this post later.

I meant to write 3 separate posts yesterday but got busy. I’ll distill two of them down drastically here. Both came up at the MSBA meeting and are some of the many concerns school board members must pay attention to.

High School vs. College

At our Thursday MSBA Area meeting we had a discussion about a new attempt by colleges to gut Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes and put more emphasis on the state financing PSEO (Pose Secondary Educational Options). The MSBA is obviously getting the word out because the Trib ran two like minded editorials from other Minnesota Newspapers on its opinion page defending AP and IB classes.

The issue is who gets the money to give our high school kids an early taste of college. AP and IB classes let public high school teachers a chance to get kids college credits that will save them money by giving them college credits before they graduate from high school. PSEO classes are college classes that High School kids take at College while they are still in High School. Public School’s are required to pay the colleges for this whereas AP classes deprive colleges of tuition payments when the kids get to college with credits already taken care of.

This is not a new issue. I heard lots of grumbling from both sides sixteen years ago while on the Board. However, colleges are making new demands to have properly accredited teachers because there is now a slump in enrollment. I tend to take the public school side of the funding issue although I was happy enough when my daughter got PSEO credit back in the 90’s.

Charter Schools Equity

Hermantown’s Representative Mary Murphy was invited to the MSBA gathering and gave us a thumbnail history of her attempt to help write State educational finance laws. She also made an observation that I’ve been thinking about for a long time. Her prejudice is not surprising here but is worth considering. She’s a former teacher in the Duluth Schools. I used to sub for her almost as often as I subbed from Senator Sam Solon.

She complained that today’s Charter Schools are beginning to lobby for “equity” in state funding. She was quite right to point out that in the early days when Charters were just a dream of DFL Governor Rudy Perpich, it was argued that they didn’t need the same resources because they would be freed from lots of state regulation. I was never clear what regulation they would be spared from having to put up with and frankly I think that was just an effective sound bite. They seem to be as tied down as any other public school. What they have been freed up from is teacher’s unions and restrict contracts that limit their authority to plug employees where they need them.

I don’t think anyone can underestimate this advantage for a school. However, the lower funding makes it attractive for charter school teachers to jump to regular independent school districts for higher pay. This has happened many times to Duluth’s Edison schools and the Duluth School District has benefited from this greatly.

So how do I feel about leveling the equity playing field? I’m not fond of switch and bait tactics. Charters were sold and bought around the country on their being more agile and flexible and cost effective. To now put them on the same financial playing field seems unfair. Unions always looked at them as trojan horses. I knew this when I voted to bring our Edison Schools in. In fact, I have to say Duluth has Charters today largely because twenty years ago our teacher’s unions were self righteous, obstructionist and indifferent to the public’s clamoring for educational reform. Hell, the DFT refused to support a 1997 operational levy vote because its President told me, “What’s in it for us?” Supt. Myles introduced it to bring in new teachers to teach art, music, science and physical education in our elementary schools. The Union President was only interested in having that money to pay existing teachers more not to have more teachers or programs for our schools.

Furthermore, the Charter experiment we brought about in Duluth is succeeding nicely, thank you very much. I have a daughter who now teaches in our charter and my two grandsons both attend. Ironically, our Duluth School Board was partly motivated to push the Red Plan in a futile attempt to bring charter kids back into the ISD 709 schools. It has had just the opposite effect and has given the Charter’s the confidence to proceed with a long held hope of starting a charter high school. This is a huge undertaking and a gamble. If Edison parents eventually conclude that the 709 schools, whatever the losses due to the Red Plan, still offer a better education someone will be stuck with a partly empty school that will have to be paid off.

I’m not interested in giving Charter’s an equal fiscal footing in Duluth if it is just to help them negotiate the big bite they are about to take. However, unlike candidate, David Kirby, I am not opposed to Charter Schools. I think choice is still a powerful tool for parents looking for the best fit for their children’s education.

which reminds me of the third Post I meant to write yesterday:

Jim Unden called and asked me about selling our empty schools to rival schools.

Jim came in third in the at-large primary for school board. I’d had a cordial conversation with him months ago and was impressed with him. I don’t think I disclosed to him back then that I was all set to support Alanna for the campaign. I’ve always worried that after reading all my laudatory posts about Alanna he might feel that I had witheld information from him. If so, that hasn’t stopped him from joining me in throwing his support to her. After making it through the primary he called her and offered up his lawnsign locations to her.

Jim was curious about the sale of Central but before he pressed me on that point he asked me who I thought had “won” the Chamber of Commerce’s candidate forum. I told him that hands down Loren Martell came across as the most knowledgeable and articulate candidate as well as the most soft spoken. I quickly added that I was very pleased with Alanna’s presentation too. I’m not alone in that assessment.

What Jim wanted to know was whether I agreed with Loren that we should lease Central out rather than selling it. I told Jim that this was the only point of disagreement I had with Loren. And its not because its not a good idea to hang onto the Central site. I think Loren is right that surrendering it limits our options for the future. Its just that I don’t fancy paying two teacher’s worth of salary a year for its upkeep for years on end with no prospective tenant.

This led to Jim’s asking about possible tenants. Jim still thought the Edison offer was viable but I told him that that boat had sailed away. The current School Board majority would never have accepted it. I did tell Jim that this might have been a mistake. Edison’s negotiator had tempted me with an offer to put a cap on enrollment to limit future damages to our schools. Certainly limiting a new exodous to 600 future students would be better than losing 800 or 900 students to Edison. Even if it is a mere 600 students Alanna was right, during the forum, when she pointed out it would be a $9 million a year loss to ISD 709’s general fund.

This is just one more reason why I have to be very skeptical about boosting financial support for Minnesota’s charter schools. ISD 709 is already on the ropes – And by the way let me remind you I was elected to represent the interests of ISD 709 not my Grandson’s charter school.

From this Jim asked me about precedents. Jim was not in Duluth for many of the last twenty years and was unclear on our previous sale of old schools to other schools. In the early ninety’s before I was elected five of our closed elementarys were sold to “competing” schools. Lowel went to the Christian Academy, Lakeside went to St. Michaels, Cobb went to Woodland Hills, Merrit was occupied by Northwoods. There was one more school……can’t think of it now. Curse old age.

Of course, the latter two schools worked in close cooperation with 709 and our teachers taught their students. I had no objection to selling to the parochial schools for two reasons. Denying them the schools would have cost us $200,000 in demolition costs and besides that. Parochial parents had helped contribute the taxes to build all of our public schools. It only seemed fair to me to let them take advantage of their part in our public schools upkeep over the years.

I told Jim that the National School Board Association had a long standing philosophy of not selling empty old public schools to rival private schools. Its a turf issue that I don’t agree with but do understand. The fact of the matter is I will make decisions in Duluth based on first, What’s best for public education; and second, What’s best for ISD 709.

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