We didn’t make the trains run on time

While I wait for the Trib to update its website (there’s an interesting letter to the editor today) I’d like to comment on the implications of one of the criticisms leveled at previous school boards and by implication me.

Its often claimed by Red Plan supporters that the old Board never made any decisions thus justifying the development of the Red Plan. Supporters of Mussolini’s dictatorship often shrugged off the loss of their democratic rights by saying that he made the formerly chaotic Italian trains run on time. Yes, dictatorship is orderly if you don’t mind the means by which you achieve order.

I wanted to close a high school while I was on the board. I couldn’t do it because others wanted to close elementary schools. We all wanted to save money – perhaps a million dollars a year in maintenance costs – which we would have put instead in the classroom. We stalemated each other. All the while we put an extra two million a year into school maintenance to keep our schools in good condition. That spending began in the early 1990’s and continued for fifteen years totalling an extra $30 million on school fix-ups. During that time our test scores regularly topped the state averages. The test for the Red Plan (if it gets crammed down our throats) will be whether our schools will equal or surpass their previous achievements.

Sometimes there is a wisdom even in stalemate when it represents the will of the people. We could not achieve a consensus for closing schools in the past and we spent a little more on extra space. We did not impose a $430 million tax liability on local voters without their consent. The current school board has done just that using a heretofore unknown interpretation of state statutes thus cloaking themselves with the aura of legality.

Legal it may be (though this interpretation of the law has yet to be tested in court) but it is also undemocratic. Mussolini got the trains to run on time but when he was deposed Il Duce’s bloody body was hung upside down by the partisans who captured and killed him. Adolph Hitler didn’t fare much better. These and other dictatorships have often paid a high price for the order they ruthlessly imposed. In Duluth were lucky. We’ll just have high taxes and a crappy new high school.

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