The new school funding formulas – straight from the donkey’s mouths

I took advantage of the District’s invitation to hear our local legislators and the DFL Speaker of the House Paul Thissen explain the new changes to school funding. It was at 10 in the new and improved Denfeld High School.

We were all given a little handout which, had I not scribbled all over it, I would copy and make available online. I had a lot of catching up to do and am glad I attended as it gave me a chance to ask three or four questions.

Some of the principals who were there greeted me cordially. I knew them before in my early service on the School Board. Many others I have yet to meet. I shook Rep Mary Murphy’s hand. She’s still a stalwart and I used to substitute for her thirty years ago when she was new to the House of Representatives.

I got a much better idea how the new referendum law works. It works to Duluth’s disavantage in terms of raising local levies. The School Board has to take a flying leap of faith just to keep the same level of funding available curtesy of local voters. Raising more will be damn nigh impossible but I guess I’d say nothing ventured nothing gained. The law does give the current school board the power to guarantee a portion of the existing levy at the risk of further alienating voters who might become even more hardened to future requests that would be necessary to keep the District afloat.

The big honey pot of money that will come the District’s way won’t come in this next school year. Even if the District gets the voters to approve the cvurrent levy its hard to see how it will avoid ending up in SOD. That’s the dreaded statutory operating debt that the District escaped shortly before I was elected in 1995.

The District is really under the gun. It must decide what level to peg a levy at by Friday and the Board will make this decision at its next meeting tomorrow. I’ll be there to watch how it all turns out and I’ll keep watching until the General election when the voters will get to weigh in.

Speaking of guns the Trib editors laid down the guantlet before the School Board in its editorial today: “Our view: New Duluth School Board must fix finances.” How this was to be done the Editors didn’t spell out. Like the Chamber of Commerce that was so eager to foist the Red Plan on us they have not yet found the courage to support a levy referendum. Reminds me of the Little Red Hen’s fellows in the barn who wanted to eat the bread she was baking but didn’t who wouldn’t help her with any of the work to bake it. Well, as far as I’m concerned they can all go jump in Judy Seliga-Punyko’s new swimming pools.

I still don’t know what all the ramifications are but as of this point I can say without doubt I’ll support any levy request and vote for it. There. The School Board has one vote. Let’s see how many more they can garner.

Just how wearing this is on the new superintendent seems evident in the smile that never seems to leave his face. It rather reminds me of the smiles Black Americans in the South always needed to plaster across their face in the presence of powerful and vengeful white people. Its a cross between putting the best face on difficult matters and the hope that someone won’t jump down your throat. I don’t believe this is entirely fair or helpful. I know I get cheek cramps when I smile too much even when I’m really ecstatic. I’m not sure this is Dr. Gronseth’s natural state based on my first recollected meeting with him when he was the principal of the Homecroft School and I was a newly retired School Board member.

I am a great champion of superintendents although the last couple didn’t win many accolades from me. I’ll do everything I can to help Supt. Gronseth do his job successfully without having to worry about being stabbed in the back. Until the District’s finances are settled to meet the DNT’s demands it will be hard for him to relax his face. I’d like to help make that possible in the next four years should I end up getting elected to the School Board. Even so it won’t be easy. Bette Davis’s famous like seems appropriate, “Fasten your seat belts. Its going to be a bumpy ride.”

Oh, and that crack of mine about the “donkey’s” in the title? All the legislators today were DFLers and this was a barely veiled campaign visit to Duluth. Frankly, the DFL legislature, whatever else its faults, did significantly improve K-12 funding.

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