A “perennial candidate” comments

Our perennial newspaper printed my column submitted a couple weeks ago with not too many alterations:

Mostly they edited out Gary Westorff’s name repeatedly as the author of the offending letter.

A staff representative for Education Minnesota pointed an accusing finger at an honorable Duluth School Board member, Gary Glass, in the March 25 News Tribune. In a letter to the editor, he said he would never support Glass for School Board, and he advised the voting public to replace Glass.

According to the letter, Glass falsely claimed credit for the school district’s savings of $1.7 million by switching to a new insurer. The credit belonged with the unions for working out the issue with the administration, the writer said.

But that was wrong. I can verify that Glass was lobbying for a change in insurers a couple of years ago, when the district chose to renew its old carrier.

I, too, commend the union for agreeing to help our troubled school district, which just borrowed

$20 million to pay its bills and teacher’s salaries. But I’m not overwhelmed by the savings. I suspect it wasn’t hard for the new carrier to lower premiums, considering the large number of staff shed in the wake of the Red Plan. I would be much more interested to know the letter writer’s attitude toward the loss of so many Duluth teachers.

Placing responsibility for this might be more useful to voters. Then again, it might not be that big a deal for the writer, who also represents teachers in Proctor and Hermantown, districts that are growing at Duluth’s expense.

The letter’s accusation wasn’t the only recent tripe I’ve read about public schools in the News Tribune. On March 11, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker wrote a tear-soaked column bemoaning his inability to keep one of Wisconsin’s “outstanding, first-year-teachers” on the payroll, owing to union contracts. Walker was in such a state of grief over this that he’s seeing to it that thousands more Wisconsin teachers will lose their jobs.

On April 13, former Duluth School Board Chairwoman Ann Wasson wrote a commentary claiming the Red Plan already had saved $4 million in operating costs. It would have been far more accurate for her to say those “savings” came from staff cuts. In fact, the district justified the Red Plan to the state by saying it would allow the district to save $5 million annually through efficiencies like laying off unnecessary janitors, secretaries, principals and teachers.

(About half of the savings was to come from cutting staff while the other half would come from Johnson Controls lowering energy costs. Presumably, JCI will do a better job for the district than it did for the city of Duluth’s steam plant.)

The Red Plan did indeed lead to staff cuts, but they’ve come about because 10 percent of our students have switched to other schools. Ah, but our remaining teachers now have SMART Boards so we can justify putting more kids in their classrooms.

Wasson was right about one thing. Our public schools will be desperate to pass an increased operating levy. Why the public would trust additional money to a district that denied it the right to vote on the Red Plan I have no idea, but I’ll support an increase for our children’s sake. They are the only innocents in this sorry story.

I take some hope from Faribault, Minn. As I understand it, Faribault couldn’t pass an operating levy referendum as long as Keith Dixon was its school superintendent; its passage had to wait until Dixon moved to Duluth.

Dixon’s June retirement is just around the corner, so, by all means, we should keep our fingers crossed. But please, let’s not point them at the wrong people.

Harry Welty is a former Duluth School Board member, a perennial candidate for public office, an oft-quoted critic of the school district and Superintendent Keith Dixon, and an organizer of the grass-roots group Let Duluth Vote.

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