Dialogue on the Red Plan

So far the DNT coverage does not bode well for a referendum let alone an expansion of it.

Today a “Follow-up” of a cogent April 26 column was on its Editorial Page. The author a Damien Cronin argued for an honest and open dialouge with voters in his first piece. Today he despairs that the District failed to heed his call and as a result has squandered a critical opportunity to win back disafected Red Plan opponents. He may very well be right.

The Superindent’s alledged trivialization of voters concerns with the Red Plan contrasts sharply with today’s DNT editorial reversing course on a recent editorial that was critical of the Mayor for a multi-million plan to enhance the Canal Park area.

I read the story on the Mayor’s plan and thought it sounded quite rational. Ironically the once incurious Trib editors sounded more like skeptical Red Plan critics. What changed the Editor’s minds? Mayor Ness.

I’ve watched Don Ness for a long time now. Unlike our old Superintendent he doesn’t try to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. Instead he calmly makes his case. He obviously did that with the Tribune Editors. However irritated he was with their editorial he paid them a friendly call and carefully outlined the pros and cons of his plan. He allayed their suspicions that the project was all unnecessary new spending for shiny things. I don’t know if this is accurate but he obviously made a strong case with the Editors. I doubt that they will be eating crow any time soon over their change of heart.

I know that the Trib’s Editors can be conned. Dr. Dixon did much the same thing as Mayor Ness when the Let Duluth Vote forces were raising cane. Dixon talked the Editors into publishing one of the most embarrassing editorials in recent memory enthusing about how happy school board members would be when $32 million of Red Plan savings suddenly plopped into their budget. Those savings never happened. They never will. The Trib had to eat crow and confess they hadn’t understood what Dixon was telling them.

It was always hard to tell what Dixon was saying when it came to finance. He spoke of getting a hundred million dollars of free buildings with the Red Plan. My guess is that he was referring to an annual projected $5 million of savings that the District told the state would come from retiring unneeded staff and energy savings. Had this panned out it would have been 5 million a year for the 20 years worth of annual payments to the bond lenders or $100 million dollars. It hasn’t been so free.

The District recently claimed that there had been energy savings although they admitted the savings were radically smaller than they had predicted. I frankly don’t even think there has been any savings but for the sake of argument I’ll assume the claims are justified. What can’t be denied, although the District is trying very hard to do so, is that there have been staff cuts but not of unneeded staff. We’ve cut teachers to pay off the unrealized savings from the Red Plan not because we didn’t need them. The result is a nearly unteachable 40 kids to the classroom in our secondary schools.

Mr. Cronin is correct that the District is overdue for a candid talk with the people of Duluth about the overselling of the Red Plan. Hunkering down in the deluded hope that the School Board will be rescued by voters on the referendums is folly. Hell, Dr. Gronseth doesn’t need to protect Dr. Dixon’s legacy. He just seems ridiculous obfuscating about his mentor and predecessor’s sad legacy.

Gronseth needs to sit down with the Trib and spell out his troubles honestly. Of course, if he doesn’t really understand how the District got where it is that is very troubling.

How long will the people of Duluth hold the Red Plan against the District? The answer can be found in today’s Bygones section on Page 2. From Aug. 15, 1973 (one year before I moved to Duluth):

“Renovation of old Duluth Central High School for use as an administrative headquarters may cost more than original estimates. Bids presented to the School Board last night to replace the roof were nearly $130,000 higher than architects estimated last November.”

That was 1973. I was elected 23 years later and I kept hearing people tell me that the stoopid School District had screwed up the Central Roofs. Just what different people meant always eluded me. There was the Old Central Roof whose disrepair had been a major argument for building a New Central. There were the cost overruns for reroofing Old Central when it became the administration building. There were leaks in the New Central Roof. To voters it was all “Remember the Central Roof!” as though they were Texans recalling the Alamo.

If we have to wait 23 years to pass an operational levy our schools will be nuked.

Honesty is the best policy and hiding in a closet will not address the demand for it.

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