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The New Year, Post Election 2013


The New Year is almost here.  The Duluth school’s Red Plan construction is completed.  The public has given us a financial reprise by passing a small increase in local support for education (but not buildings), and state funding is increasing. We have three new members on the school board.  Change is in the air.  It is time for some soul searching: what have we done right, what have we done wrong, how can we move from the past into a positive future?    It is time for new-year resolutions and a new era. 

I hope that the  “building new buildings at any cost” mentality of the last seven years is over.   It is time to start listening to dissenting viewpoints, and encouraging diversity and inclusiveness in future decisions.  It is time to start putting education rather than buildings as a priority. It is time for transparency, honesty, and a re-engagement of our citizens back into school governance. 

As a board, we must open up the monthly agenda setting sessions so everyone in Duluth that is represented their board member has a say and knows what is going on and how decisions are made.  

 Board members must be accountable for decisions that the school makes, rather than the board hiding behind the administration.  We got elected to represent citizens—let’s start doing that.  Citizens, special interest groups, neighbors, parents and staff should expect the school board to listen to and be responsive to their concerns.  Decisions must be made by encouraging alternate viewpoints, and by expanding, rather than shrinking, our public input. 

The board and the administration have to get over the fear of asking our building contractor for accountability.  Just because we have beautiful new buildings does not take away the government’s job of determining whether we got the deal that we were promised and negotiated seven years ago.

The board and the public must get over the fear of asking the administration for full accounting of why we have financial problems.  We have to ask and demand credible answers on whether the Red Plan’s financial scheme was competent then and is it competent now? Do we have to change it? Were the savings predictions made seven years still valid?  Is it wise to continue paying for building debts by pulling money from the classrooms?   Asking such questions and getting legitimate answers is the heart of why we have school boards

We have to stop blaming the financial problems of our schools on the lack of selling excess buildings as they are a very minor part of funding the new buildings, and it has nothing to do with classroom deficits.  We have to stop blaming the state and Duluth citizens for the school’s dismal financial planning that has emptied fund reserves, cut curriculum, increased class sizes, and have caused increased taxes that were promised not to be necessary. 

The administration must acknowledge the past mistakes because that is critical for our public and our future parents to gain confidence in our public schools so they will be willing to send their children here. And the board must start regaining and rebuilding the citizen’s, teacher’s, and student’s confidence back in our leadership and wisdom as we set the tone for all the school. The continued success of our schools depends on that, and the people deserve nothing less.

Art Johnston

4th District School Board Representative

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