A little more on Duluth School Board’s elections

The following exposition is in reference to my most recent Reader Column Democracy on the Cheap.

The editorial in the Duluth News Tribune championing the School Board’s consideration of an election change that could save the District a little money introduced information that was new to me. It said that by law our school board and the city council elections tied together and have to be separated by new legislation. Maybe that’s true but if so it was not made clear to me five years ago when I served on a board that considered and disposed of the change to even year elections. But I wondered if my memory was off so I consulted my ex colleague and fellow black sheep Art Johnston on the subject. Its the first email between us in years although he sent me a nice thank you for giving him a little donation for his doomed legislative race this year. I can’t say I was rooting for him. His politics has brought him too close to the Republican sun for me but at least his wings are not made of wax.
My donation was a just a little nod to our past ordeals.

I wrote Art this:

The DNT has reported that the reason the Board stuck to even year elections back in 2015 is because by law they are paired with the Duluth city council elections. I am sure its true but I don’t remember that this was the reason we dropped the idea. Do you remember that as the reason Judy, Mike and company backed off?
By the way Happy Holidays.

Art wrote back as follows:

From: Art Johnston
Date: 12/13/20 9:47 PM (GMT-06:00)
To: harrywelty
Subject: Re: the reason SB elections are paired with the city

Hi Harry, good to hear from you!

I don’t recall the nuances of that issue very well. If the DNT reported anything, it likely is wrong. Why were they even talking about it?

I definitely recall the odd years being justified NOT, nor related at all, by the City Council election. I recall that the Board and the lackadaisical Superintendent [were] just being too lazy to change it. I recall us opposing it, unless we could have verification that [Punyko] would not get a free year out of the deal. I recall that all that had to be done was to clarify that in the next couple elections that people would only have a three year term. I recall that a law change would be required, but that that would not be an issue if we wanted it. I also recall the Union opposing changing it because odd, off, off year elections guarantee a low voter turnout…

I wrote Art back and thanked him for confirming my recollections to wit:

Thanks Art. That confirms my recollections. We two, being outsiders, may not have been informed of the nuances recently reported by the Trib. As you suggest, if that is true it reflects poorly on the powers-that-be of that miserable era.

And Art replied again after having thought more about the subject:

Also, I remember a couple years ago that some City charter commission, or some such thing, was looking into changing the election dates, seem to recall that Joel Spris being involved. I think that the school Board elections were also included in the discussion (not sure if that was legit…). Jennifer, of the former Zenith (her archives are no longer available), wrote an article opposing the change and Loren Martell wrote her a letter supporting the change. But I recall that nothing happened to any of those discussions (bureaucrats shuffling papers).

I also recall that the current election date came about when (20 years ago?) the State passed a law reducing the number of school board members–and dictating that school boards had to choose between 6 or 7 members–and I think, they also had to set their election dates at that time….


I mentioned only changes to the dates on which Duluth School Board members elections take place. I did not mention the change Art mentions that reduced the size of our school board from nine members to seven. That took place in my last full year at the behest of member Mary Glass whose justification was that it would save money. The savings would be 2 times the payment of two school board members stipends or about $10,000 – peanuts. One of the consequences of this change, ironically, was that it gave the new school superintendent Keith Dixon one of the least experienced School Boards in Duluth history. He wrapped the board around his little finger and they went along with the remarkable Red Plan which ended up costing Duluth half a billion dollars, ten percent of the student body (who exited during and after its completion) and finally one hundred teachers who had to be removed so that their salaries could cover the taxes needed to pay for the new buildings.

Talk about the law of unintended consequences!!!!!

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