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Art's Statement to Board supporting negotiations to sell Central

[Note: the School Board voted 4-3 on March 31, not to enter into negotiations with Edison Charter School's offer to purchase Central Property. The follwing are my comments to the Board supporting such negotiations.]

I would like to thank the School Board for allowing public comment tonight and on Monday.  It is a welcome change for us to listen to and encourage such public comment.  Thank you.

I would like to apologize to the many people that have sent me emails, but that I have not been able to respond to.  I have received about 400 emails. I have tried to respond to those I know, but please know that I have read all your comments, even if I wasn’t able to personally respond.

I thank the many nice letters that I received, and I want to say that your ideas and alternative ideas have been absolutely amazing, and I thank the many of you that are thinking outside the box.  This is what we need to be successful.

I will be voting in favor of negotiating with any potential buyer (in this case Tisher Creek). We are not here to approve any sale of property to anyone; we are only here to start negotiations.  At this point we (the school board members) don’t even have a offer.  So let’s get to work, talk to Tischer Creek, get real- up-to-date advice from realtors, and real up-dated financial estimates. 

I would like to state some reasons I think that we need to negotiate this.  But first, I would like to comment on some of the misinformation that has been flying around. It is important that we use accurate information in deciding whether to do something.   The following examples of misinformation were a minority part of the emails I received, but they are important to comment on:

  • Many people dislike Charters Schools. But it is not our duty to debate the pros and cons of charters schools.  Charter Schools are here due to laws passed by the State of Minnesota starting back in 1991. At my last count, 42 states allow Charter Schools, and President Obama supports charter schools.  
  • The Edison Charter School and Tisher Creek are  non-profits.  Period.  When I get emails with bold, capitalized words yelling out “FOR PROFITS” with an assumption that that is bad, it raises flags for me.  There are For Profit Schools out there like Trump University, Corinthians University, both that have gone bankrupt.  Other examples are Capella University and Phoenix University which have been more successful.  Most companies, even non-profits, often contract with FOR PROFIT companies for services like textbooks, food service, transportation, administrative tasks, and even some education.  Both ISD709 and Edison does that. 
  • We’ve been hearing a lot of misinformation about Special Education and how Edison is somehow an evil part of this and ripping off our schools.   That is false.  Everyone connected to education knows that the revenue provided by the State and Federal governments do not cover the cost of providing special Ed programming.  Very briefly, Edison gets money for special education, just like we do.  The only difference is that Edison’s money is pass-through money—passed through the ISD709.  ISD709 is not subsidizing Edison with special ed. Period.  It pains me to hear people picking on the special ed program.  Does Edison have more 1 on 1 para to students in IEPs, then ISD709?  Maybe, but that is not a negative.  And in no way does it cost us any money.  This is a level paying field.  It concerns me that our lowest paid workers, the paras, and the special ed kids who can’t defend themselves are being used as political football.
  • ·I have been concerned about the vitriol of the some of the anti-Edison letters. Here’s some of the words: "Reactionary impulsive decision making";  "It is our intention for [Edison] to lose [its] shirt". "We have to do our best to stop the carnage they intend to inflict." Those were the not so nice letters to read.


If we don’t negotiate to sell the Central property, the only alternative is to hold on to it. I am opposed to that.  Why?  The Long Range Facilities Plan was developed with the understanding that we would sell the excess property to help pay for the debts. So let’s sell it—on the right terms.  Holding on to it costs up to $200,000 per year. The only offer that we’ve had (that I’ve been told about) was for $10 million and that fell through.  So, … let’s keep our fingers crossed and pray that someone, besides Edison, will come along with $14 million? Talk to any realtor and they will say: that  probably won’t happen.

So should we decided to develop it ourselves?  Sure we can tear down old Central and the STC; survey roads, add utilities and make a housing development.  There is a problem with that—a developer already had that I idea and backed out. 

But there’s another problem with this let’s-develop-it-ourselves.  We are schools, we aren’t developers; and razing old Central and developing this site will take about $2 million.  Where are we going to get that $2 million? Go down to the bank and ask for a loan?  I think you know what a banker would say about that—NO and you’re crazy.  So let’s dip in the General Fund.  NO.  NO. NO.  I will do everything that I can to stop any money to pursue developing Central.

We can not operate and make decision by crossing our fingers and praying.


I want to talk about why I support trying to negotiate a better deal.

There have been many ideas that have been  brought up as ideas for negotiations.  I think that Edison might be willing to look at some of those. 

·        Put a cap on Edison’s enrollment—they have long said they would agree to that.

·        Sell HOCHS, exchange Central for NorthStar Academy and move the Administration to NorthStar.

·        Share programs with Edison, let’s learn from each other and help each other, let’s stop the fighting.  Let’s turn the page for a change.

·        Sell only the High School and keep the STC for Technology or move administration up there, and sell HOCHS.  This last idea has come as a surprise.      Eight years ago I did what I could to keep Central open.  I was ridiculed, laughed at, and worse.  Would I support us moving back to Central or STC?  You bet.  But I’m waiting for a proposal and support to come from the Administration, the Chamber of Commerce, or the Teacher’s Union.  But I’m not going to hold my breath.

All of these are great ideas that I think could be developed and investigated by entering into negotiation. 


There’s another reason that we should negotiate to sell this property:

Our schools need alternatives and change; and our schools need money.  And without selling some of this property that was supposed to have been sold, we don’t have enough money.

I am well aware of the danger of selling to Edison and the likelihood of losing enrollment.  And that concerns me a lot.  Of course we have to weigh the long-term impact of possibly losing enrollment. But we also have to look at why have we been losing enrollment and how to stop it.   Why aren’t we asking that question?  If a fraction of the energy that has been put into blaming Edison had been put into improving our graduation rates, improving student proficiency, lowering our class sizes, and removing our achievement gap, we would not be here discussing this. Why are we assuming that Edison will grow and we will decline? Why aren’t we assuming that we will grow and Edison will decline? We have created this mind-set and it has become a self-filling prophecy.

Let’s look at the current situation we are in need changing.

  • In the last ten years ISD709 has lost over 2000 students.  Our enrollment is now 8250 students; this is the lowest number of students in probably 100 years.  Last year, Denfeld graduated its lowest number since Denfeld was built in 1926—that was even after we “combined” Denfeld with Central—obviously few of the Central students went to Denfeld—they went elsewhere—they are already gone.  Let me say that again: last year Denfeld graduated its lowest number of students ever: 180 graduates.  Last year East graduated 360 students.    Yes, all area school is not as large as they were 40 years ago, but I’m talking about now.  If you look around at other schools:  Proctor, Cloquet, Hermantown, Esko, the Christian Academy, St. James, and yes, Edison, you will find that they are growing their student population.
  • In looking at graduations rates, the percentage of those graduating, Duluth public schools has one of the lowest rates in Minnesota.
  • Let’s look at student achievement.  According to our World’s Best Work Force Achievement and Integration report, we failed to meet any of the proficiency goals in either reading or math, none of them.
  • In our regular accountability tests, Denfeld has math scores of only 60% of East, we have reading scores half of East’s.
  • Let’s look at ethnic results:  African American and Native American math proficiency scores are half of Whites American students.  I will not accept that that is okay because other schools are just as bad. No. I know of schools that have eliminated this achievement gap and I want that to happen here.
  • Another thing. In the last ten years we have eliminated 275 FTE teachers.  275 positions.

All this has happened without Edison having a high school.  You can’t blame Edison for that. 

There is one issue that is largely to blame for much of what I’ve described.  We have a large amount of debt.  We are paying close to $24 million per year for debt payments.  Some of that is coming out of the general fund, the classrooms.  In fact, as of this year, $34,242,367 has been pulled out of the General Fund, the classrooms, to pay for debts.

We all know that little of the savings that were predicted, never happened.

I am bringing up this data because we have problems. We need change.  We need money. We need leadership.


If we can make a deal to sell Central, lets take that money and improve our schools.  If we made a deal to sell old Central, a requirement of me agreeing to that is that we, ISD709, take that money and put it into the classroom. If we are only going to put it in the bank, don’t sell Central.


I am very glad that we are looking at what’s happening in our schools.  I am very thankful for all the discussion that has been generated in the last five days because Edison brought this up.  I have every hope that with all the help of the great teachers and staff we have, and with our parents and students, and with support from this school board, that we will beat Edison at their own game and we will stop losing student.

For starters, I need support in bring back 7 period days, and zero hour. I want all of your ideas and help, whether or not we sell Central.

We have a critical mass and critical thoughts gathered together here.  Let’s not waste it in bashing Edison.  Let’s work with them, let’s take their money if we can make a deal.  And let’s beat them at their own game.  Denfeld robotics is beating their competition. And we can grow ISD 709, Duluth Public Schools.




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