The Last Eight Days, Reader column published Oct 3, 2003

I don’t go back and read old columns often but I’ve begun to do that as I mine ideas for my possible race against Trump’s pocket lint.

This was a striking post as I stepped back from campaigning for reelection to the New School Board in 2004

Not Eudora By Harry Welty
Published Oct. 3, 2003

The Last Eight Days

Monday – My son’s band is playing at Beaners tonight. I haven’t heard him play the sax for three years and I’d really like to join Claudia to hear him play. Unfortunately, there’s another damned, long-range planning meeting tonight. I hope it ends early. It doesn’t. As I sit down I hear a couple of board members kvetching about my latest Reader column.

We are all desperate to iron out the details of the excess levy we are proposing. If it fails we will have to cut $6.2 million from the budget. To cut $5.5 million this year we had to axe 72 teachers. Only God and Bob Mars know how we’ll cut $6.2 million. We argue for hours. A plan is pulled out of thin air that will probably lead to closing elementary schools. It passes 7-2 with my “yes.” It has already passed by the time I cast my vote. I vote “yes” so that I can move to “reconsider” it. Parliamentary procedure requires this. When I do no one seconds my motion. I walk out of the meeting early for the second week in a row. I have words with another board member on the way out. Tonight’s meeting is a good argument for smoke filled rooms.

Tuesday – The Trib’s story makes it sound like the Board has finally agreed on a blueprint for the District. Good. If the Board looks indecisive it will threaten the already shaky prospects for the $4.9 million levy and neighborhood elementary schools will be just that much more vulnerable.

At 8AM I get a phone call. I’m told that one of our kindergarten students has been shot to death.

I love reading to kindergartners. I always put on my gorilla slippers when I read to them. Little kids like gorilla slippers. If I wasn’t on the School Board I probably wouldn’t get as many invitations to read in the schools.

But lately I’ve been thinking about retiring from the Board. My challenger started out as a Mike Randolph fanatic but I’ve concluded that he’s a sensible fellow. I’ve recently hinted to him that I might endorse him. This afternoon I have to screen with the Budgeteer Press. Since I’m still undecided I put on my game face and act like a candidate for half an hour

I call the Board member I had words with to reconcile our differences. I leave a phone message suggesting that we get together for the sake of passing the levy. She never returns my call.

At 3:30 the names of two people arrested for the kindergartner’s murder are announced. I know one of them – a young woman. I handed her a high school diploma last spring. Her mother works with Claudia. I call Claudia immediately. The mother hasn’t heard yet. My wife will have to tell her the awful news.

Wednesday – A second article about the school board’s plans appears in the Trib. This story paints the picture of a divided board. This won’t help the levy.

I call an editor. I beg her not to beat up the board for being indecisive lest it hurt the levy’s chances. She really wants to give us a good whack. We deserve it. Because she now agrees with me that we ought to close a high school immediately (something our current plans don’t do) I point out that four years earlier her paper endorsed me because I had dropped the idea of closing a high school. (Actually, I’d only put it on the shelf) She says they couldn’t possibly have said that. I email her the editorial. So far the Trib has kept mum on the School Board.

Tonight there will be an annual meeting of area school board members. They will begin planning how to lobby the state legislature a task that is likely to be futile owing to the state’s budget crunch and the “no tax” pledge. I’ve always attended these meetings. I stay home.

Thursday – Even though it’s sunny I spend the day cleaning up my basement. It seems like the best place for me.

After work Claudia and I drive to the Twin Cities. Claudia has a meeting of the Minnesota Safety Council tomorrow. I’ll spend Friday helping fix the storm windows on my daughter’s new house.

Saturday – I’ve caught up with the news since returning to Duluth. There has been a shooting at Rocori High Schoolin Cold Spring. Two students were shot by another, one fatally. I think about Duluth ’s Christmas City of the North parades and how my wife and her business associates would get our families together to watch it. It’s hard to believe that one of those neat little kids watching the parade would be connected with the murder of another little kid.

Monday – I meet with a school principal at Bixbys. I tell him that we’ve got to get a simple message out to the public. First, that we will eliminate our excess space by moving the administration from the CAB into the schools. Second, that we will back-off on closing elementary schools. Third, that we will leave it for a future school board to decide whether Duluth will become a one-high school town.Fourth, that we can do all this and keep three high schools and add middle schools without – Fifth, deficit spending. And finally, Sixth, that the failure of an excess levy will ravage the Duluth schools. I tell him that our Administration must craft a plan that does these things and get board members to agree before we meet again to amend last Monday’s plan. You can’t herd cats with Minnesota’s open meeting law.

I visit two civics classes at East High. I tell the students I’m not sure I really want to stay on the school board. In one class I notice a globe suspended from the ceiling. I ask if anyone knows the story of Hercules and Atlas, who held the world on his shoulders. I pull the teacher’s stool over under the globe climb up on it and place myself under the globe. I tell the class that, like Atlas, I’m tired of having itchy trees growing up through my toes and not being able to scratch them. I tell them that Tom Hustad, my challenger, could be my Hercules. In the myth Atlas asks Hercules to hold up the earth for a few minutes while he scratches his toes. Hercules obliges but discovers that Atlas is in no great hurry to resume his burden.

Tuesday – I attend the bus safety committee. Five families have requested that we alter bus routes to pick up their children. We deny all the requests. It will probably be worse next year. Today kindergartners are bussed to school if they live half-a-mile or more away. Next year all students may have to walk two miles to school. This change will only save about $400,000 of a $6.2 million deficit. Closing schools won’t make us solvent either. Neither will laying-off another 75 teachers. Doing all of these things and cramming more kids into classrooms will get us close. This is what we will face if the excess levy fails.

I need a light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve got a job interview this afternoon.

Welty is a small time politician who lets it all hang out at

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