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Candidate's view: School Board must return its focus to academic excellence

Education is important throughout our society. Whether you are a doctor delivering babies or an automotive mechanic keeping our society rolling, you need skill sets learned in our schools.

My family is steeped in education. My oldest son has a PhD in music and works in Washington, D.C. My youngest son has a degree in automotive engineering and works designing recreational vehicles. My father was a businessman and was on the School Board for many years. My mother was a school nurse for many years.

After graduating from high school, building houses and starting a family, I went back to school and received two degrees in three years. My career as a professional engineer is very enjoyable and rewarding.

As lifelong learners, we all continue using the skill sets we learn at school. Some of my most rewarding times are teaching engineering classes, mentoring engineering students, giving community-education classes and reading at Laura MacArthur Elementary School. And throw in learning about parliamentary procedures for good measure.

I am proud of being elected four years ago and representing the people of western Duluth, people who care about their schools and the education of their children and grandchildren. A day doesn’t go by that someone doesn’t come up to me and tell me to keep doing what I’m doing on the School Board to make our schools better.

Many of the people I talk to have pulled their children out of our public schools. The reasons are many, but large class sizes, reduced curriculum, behavior problems and a lack of respect from the district to the parents weigh heavily. And adding to that we have diverted money from education programs to build fancy buildings that were given a higher priority than our commitment to academic excellence.

As any teacher can tell you, the best students are those who ask questions. My tenure on the School Board has been about honesty, involvement, questioning and looking for a better way to solve problems by engaging the community.

Schools have an unbreachable relationship with the community and the taxpayers who support them. That relationship must be smart and honest, and it must be a two-way street.

We can’t solve the problems of large class sizes and the achievement gap unless we have a sound financial foundation. The recent Moody Investment Services report showed that the financial management of our school is among the worst in the state. The finances of our district are shaky, and the longer the board ignores this fact the harder it will be for us to get back on our feet.

In my last four-year term, I’ve learned where the schools’ money comes from and where it goes. It’s not a pretty picture. But with that knowledge, I’m asking you to re-elect me for another four years to get solutions that can truly move us forward with honesty, sound financial management and a commitment to keeping the money in the classrooms. Only then will the district regain the community’s trust.

Art Johnston represents District 4 on the Duluth School Board

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