“Harry would you stop growling?”

A few minutes ago I headed back upstairs to continue writing a post titled: “Elementary Ed, my first plunge.”

It was starting to metastasize into a giant discussion of education when I paused to look at my contract for subbing at the NorthStar Academy. Then I picked up my phone to text my daughter and ask her what we are singing in church on Sunday. I forgot it was choir practice night when I came home exhausted from teaching at Northstar yesterday. I also forgot to set out the trash for this morning’s pickup. That’s what an eight-hour-day shepherding students can do to a 71-year-old substitute teacher.

I noticed my contract with the Edison schools which I had just gotten a month after starting my career as a substitute teacher in mid-December was missing its 3rd page. It had gotten misplaced when I was moving from room to room. Then I noticed on the News Tribune’s webpage that my daughter was one of the teachers pictured in a story about unhappy teachers who wanted school board members at the ISD 709 contract negotiations. That was a subject I knew something about. One of the teachers quoted in the story said that in twenty years of negotiating with the School Board there had always been board members at the table but not this year. That certainly overstates things. In fact, going back forty years the board members have rarely been anything other than window dressing at negotiations. The decisions were always made during closed meetings with input from the real negotiators about what was going on. When the School Board has competent business officers they are the primary brakes from giving out more money that the District could offer. When that happened teachers were laid off to pay the new contract wages.

There was roughly a twenty-year period when there was nothing preventing the teachers from dipping into the state’s coffers for higher salaries until the legislature put the brakes on more money. In those years, a heyday of sorts, Minnesota was the 5th most generous state in terms of teachers salaries. Since the legislators put the brakes back on Minnesota has been right in the middle of the state pack at around 25th most generous for teacher’s salaries.

I’ve tried to explain this to my French pen pal who was paid by the French nation not a local Department (state or province). In the Age of the rise of an anti-government Republican party teachers across the nation have seen their salaries stall. And in states where the teachers are paid more the Congress and Trump recently made tax changes that prevented the richer taxpayers in more generous states from deducting their higher state income taxes from their federal tax payments. This effectively punished them and their states for paying teachers more than the chintzy states.

I am now getting a much closer look at how our city’s two charter schools operate compared to ISD 709 since I have become a substitute teacher under contract with both Northstar and Harbor City International.

I am not at all disappointed with the experiment I helped kickstart and helped defend from the Duluth Federation of Teachers twenty some years ago (That’s Northstar not Harbor City. I had nothing to do with that). It was, however, an experiment that was destined to freeze out a teacher’s union although that was not completely certain at the beginning of the experiment. How the Northstar school is handling the Covid school outages is much more fleet of foot than ISD 709. But I am very clear-eyed where education is concerned. NorthStar teachers make much less money. And Northstar has a system which moves staff around in such a way as to reinforce teachers in the classroom and in which teachers tend to work overtime with students.

Ironically, the worst result of Northstar’s existence in Duluth was the Red Plan which was envisioned by many of its champions as a way to build new schools that would lure away Northstar families. On its face this may have seemed like an obvious way to undermine the Edison charters but it was soooooooo short-sighted. The credulous minds of the Board who went along with sociopathic liar Keith Dixon did not understand that by signing away general fund dollars that paid teacher’s salaries to pay instead for new building bonds they would be effectively axing about 100 teachers a year. That meant big classes. That meant less student-to-teacher contact time. And it came at a time when there was a long standing cap (by a more fiscally conservative state legislature) on how much the ISD 709 school board could pay teachers. 709 had already maxed out what they could levy to pay them according to state limitation on their ability to charge local taxpayers. However, as Loren Martell said when he ran for the School Board, the Board’s new lobbyists effectively got more taxing authority a couple years ago to raise more taxes. But that’s it. The teachers can ask for 3 percent higher salaries or 100 percent higher salaries but 709 is already levying at the max. There is no more money. The only way to give the teachers a higher salary is to trade it off for a cheaper insurance plan or to lay off staff somewhere: paras, food service employees, bus drivers, nurses, counselors, administrators or other teachers. Heaven forbid that the Administration ask them to try and do things differently. (DO NOT MISTAKE THIS AS A CRITICISM OF ANYONE. I AM PROFOUNDLY SYMPATHETIC TO BOTH TEACHERS AND ADMINISTRATION ESPECIALLY DURING THIS VIRAL ABOMINATION. I AM SIMPLY BEING CLEAR-EYED.)

I in no way mean to put teachers down. They simply do not as a group understand their situation. They are a bit like the 3 million Americans who listen to Tucker Carlson every day on Fox News. That’s because the District has no effective way to communicate what the hell is going on to them and they rely on the rumor mill of teacher’s lounges. That is what I always attempted to get past when I served on the school bard with: www.snowbizz.com and www.lincolndemocrat.com.

As for school board members being on the negotiating committee I had a bitter experience when I stepped back on the Board in 2013. The Union didn’t seem to mind not having Board members when it had a pliant Superintendent buying them off just as they did their best to shut worried teachers up about their Red Plan concerns lest their allies in the construction trade unions got upset about not sharing in a big public works spending program that would doom Duluth Students to huge classrooms and fewer teachers for the thirty-year life of the building bonds. The construction trades desperately wanted a couple year’s worth of work.

About the previous title of this post…… I removed the first post to use for my next week’s Not Eudora column. I was heading upstairs to write this new post when I paused by a window near my wife’s office. As I looked out at our frigid back yard I stretched and let out a growl with all this post’s ideas and more swirling in my head. My wife had told me a few minutes before she would be in a “zoom meeting.” (her book club I think) Warning me was code for don’t interrupt us which my growl certainly did. I heard her and her zoom-mates laugh as I turned and trudged up to my office to write this.

About the author