Blasphemer or Gadfly?

To quote the beginning of the Sunday Trib’s Editorial:

“The blasphemy was uttered by an elected official. Of course elected. Easy political points.

Except Duluth School Board member Alanna Oswald — like so many politicians, candidates and pot-stirrers before her — missed the mark by suggesting in March the Duluth school district consider ridding itself of Historic Old Central High School, a landmark as identifiable and iconic in Duluth as the Aerial Lift Bridge. Maybe even more so. The castle-like brownstone has been breathtakingly dominating our skyline since 1892. A bridge over the ship canal didn’t go up until almost a decade and a half after that.”

Alanna Oswald didn’t take much offense at this grandiose allegation of her apparent willingness to subvert Duluth’s architectural history. And the Trib is not exactly wrong to say that other “pot stirrers” had suggested that Old Central was too big a financial burden (Brownstone Elephant) for the District to maintain. I remember how UMD caviled when the Congdon family generously gave The estate to them to maintain thirty years ago.

But there’s more to this story……which I will explain after I go for a walk on Brighton Beach with my recently returned better half…….

……My break led to a leisurely lunch at Va Bene and was followed by a satisfying read about the horrific seige of Fort St. Elmo on Malta by the Turks. It puts the Alamo to shame. That will put me in the mood for our 4PM Committee of the Whole meeting in a short while to discuss our budget. I’m not going to it in a very positive frame of mind.

So, anyway. Alanna’s question was really about why a building valued at $4 million to the Duluth School District by the appraisers that told us all of Central was only worth $8 million, tops, should now be worthy of our spending $18 million – especially in the face of an enrollment decline based on our using classroom funds to pay off Red Plan debt. If that’s blasphemous so is putting a higher priority on education than on schools. I guess that makes me a blasphemer too.

The first school board member to cavil at the prospect of hanging onto Old Central – which is so perfectly suited to a massive educational bureaucracy – it was Board member Garry Krause who more than any other public official can be given credit for catching George Sherman’s interest in developing Duluth. Although I was no more interested in abandoning Old Central in 2002 than I am now I seconded a motion of his to consider the idea.

The editorial actually contained some news in it. Our Facilities Manager, Kerry Leider, learned that there could be up to eight million in government funding available to fix up Old Central because its on the Historic Register. In that case, Alanna’s questions may have borne fruit. And I suspect the Editors at the Trib wanted to give her credit for the discovery. Certainly Mr. Leider, despite nearly a quarter century on the job, seemed surprised to hear of such potential funding.

Thank goodness we have someone else on the Board who asks questions. Such a person is neither a blasphemer or a gadfly but simply a public servant looking for accountability.

What’s that line teachers are always quoting? Oh yeah, I remember: “There is no such thing as a dumb question.”

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