Squeezing some blood (thoughts on education) out of a turnip.

I began deleting old email messages on my District website a few moments ago. One gives me a link to clear out all of my district information on Google without disrupting non District info I had on a separate Google account previously. Having finished my holiday decorating…..including a second “fake” Christmas Tree in the basement with grandchildren produced gingerbread cookies I think its time to wrap up my District connections including turning in that tardy campaign finance form my Board policy book and my District ID’s and parking passes. I just discovered another eight inches worth of old Board books I’d put on some shelving to toss out so I’m really freeing up space. I have three or four bins of paperwork to look through some day and clean out as well.

I left my eight loyal readers hanging a couple days ago with assurances that there were subjects school district I intended to address related to All Day Kindergarten and more thoughts on Charter Schools. Promises, Promises. I’ll turn them into bullet points:

1. The loss of funds from a drop in kindergartens has not been investigated or explained. I have a theory. Kindergarten parents with means have likely heard how crowded our Kindergarten classrooms are and have decided that keeping them at home is preferable to sending them to Duluth Schools. Sad if true but its just a theory. Spending down our reserves to set up all day K was predicated on the desire to keep families from sending their children to Edison as was, in large measure, our exorbitant spending on the Red Plan. Both seem to have acted much as shooting oneself in the foot.

2. After a long discussion with a fellow Board member I would make these amendments to my commentary on Special Education without changing anything I wrote before.

A. Edison follows the law.
B. Edison simply guarantees parents the federally required help that a special ed designation demands. Apparently, some parents a do not think ISD 709 does this. As a result our Independent District is required to transfer 90% of those expenses to Edison to do what is required of them.
C. Edison and 42 other school districts receive payments from ISD 709 for Duluth residents who qualify to receive special education services.
D. Not all the paras at Edison work in the classroom like 709 paras. Some of them are more like hall and playground monitors and thus do not make classroom teachers lives easier.
E. Edison is able to pay higher salaries to special ed teachers in large part because no teacher’s contract forbids paying them greater compensation. I would note that the lower paid regular classroom teachers do enjoy the benefits of smaller classrooms than ISD 709 teachers which may in some way compensate, in terms of less stress, for the lower compensation. Maybe they will live longer.
F. I know there was more I wanted to note but the conversation took place a couple days ago and I’ve forgotten some of it.

Finally, I had my last school board meeting Tuesday night. It was long but not particularly heated. A plan to ask 709 teachers to voluntarily take two days of unpaid furlough got its teeth kicked out. Education Minnesota took a dim view of our teachers being asked to give up their contract rights which our local union was initially willing to consider. A tough email was sent out to all teachers backing away from such heresy. This is what it said:

Here are some action items that took place and a request to wear Red tomorrow instead of Wednesday.

After much discussion by roughly 100 members there were two votes that took place.

1. A recommendation was motioned and approved unanimously for all members not to complete and submit the Superintendent’s Google form/survey. Members who have submitted the form should go back in and clear response.

2. A second motion was approved, again unanimously, that any member who chooses to accept the voluntary leave without pay is considered to have Direct Dealings with individuals, which is in direct violation of labor law. Education Minnesota and DFT will not support this.

Actions requested include attending tomorrow night’s School Board meeting at 6:30 wearing red. Make signs that say WE CARE about our students, WE CARE about one another, WE CARE about our community and WE WILL PROTECT our contract.

Contact your building stewards for the conversation that took place this evening. Many are scheduling meetings, make sure you are there.

?If there was ever a time to stick together, this is the time.?

?In solidarity,?

Bernie Burnham
President, Duluth Federation of Teachers

My wife who spent a long time in Personnel in the private sector was not surprised. She said she thought such a deal might violate the law and had a recollection that something like this was shot down back when I was on the School Board.

At our meeting I looked at 1.6 million in cuts being suggested to us to avoid teacher layoffs and observed that they seemed relatively painless. I said that I did not envy the budget cutting decisions our new school board would likely face as I thought they would be far more draconian. To that end I mentioned that of the $31 million (its now 3.7 million) we raised from local property tax payers we only put $2.5 million into running our schools. The rest goes off to pay for the Red Plan debts. I said that was a vanishingly small portion of our taxes to support our schools compared to other Minnesota School Districts. I suggested that all the new school board members begin researching Statutory Operating Debt because I thought there was almost no way to avoid it at this point.

Annie Harala did rebuke me for saying the cuts we were making were easy. She said some of them were wrenching and that I was being flippant. I thought to myself that she was flippanting me off. But, I was deadly serious. When we start laying off teachers and making our classrooms that much bigger that’s when the cuts will be wrenching.

This leaves me with a post about the “gift horse.” I’ll do that after lunch……I might even proof read this and make edits.

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