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Operating levy for Duluth schools in November? Well, actually no.

Superintendent Bill Gronseth’s remarks at the August 13 School Board Business Committee meeting:

As you know, I’ve served as Superintendent for about six months. In that time, I have spoken with many groups, organizations, families and citizens.

Recently, I had the opportunity to have a cup of coffee with one of our alums. He told me that he has been a long-time supporter of the schools, but during last year’s operating levy he didn’t feel he could vote “yes.” I asked him why. He explained that it was a loss of trust – he didn’t really understand what the money was for and was confused about the facilities plan and how that might be tied to money for programs.

Even more recently, I spoke with a family who chose to transfer their kids to a private school. They were tired of the uncertainty about the future – they knew the schools lacked the funding necessary to best meet the needs of students, and chose to leave until “things settled down.”

These comments echo what I’ve heard from others in our community. In short, while there continue to be feelings of support there are also feelings of hurt, confusion and in some cases a lack of trust.

The people I’ve talked to recognize this situation is not beneficial to our children and community. Whether they were for the school closings and construction or against them, they agree something must be done to bridge the gap, pull people together and build support around our schools. They all want to find a resolution, they want our students to be successful, and they want to have a voice in figuring it all out.

In short, we have an opportunity in terms of choosing our next steps. We could take the old, familiar path and move forward with an operating levy this November. There would likely be the same old arguments about cuts versus status quo, about Red Plan versus no plan.

Or, we could postpone an operating levy and do something this district has needed to do for a long time. We could put our time and resources into connecting with a broad spectrum of Duluthians to engage in a conversation about the future of ISD 709. Encourage involvement in a community-wide conversation about what we believe our schools should be and what we envision for the future. Stop telling the community what’s good for them, and trust the leaders and residents of Duluth to do the right thing if given the opportunity.

Rather than putting time and resources into an operating levy, let’s spend the next year engaging the community, building common beliefs, values, and a strong innovative roadmap into the future.

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about buildings – let’s put as much time and effort into discussing what the education in those buildings should look like. Let’s discuss our curriculum, our finances, our beliefs, our hopes and our dreams for the schools of Duluth. Let’s talk about common goals and then let’s talk about how an operating levy can support them.

Everything I know about our financial situation tells me we need the additional funding a successful operating levy would bring. However, I believe our students and schools would see an even greater long-term benefit through a full and open discussion which results in a clear direction and vision.

My recommendation to the Board is that we postpone an operating levy and invite the community to join in this important conversation about our future. After all, these schools belong to the community and it is time for their voices to be heard and included regarding the future direction of the Duluth Public Schools.

3 Comment(s)

  1. Thank you Mr. Gronseth for realizing that clear, open communication and trusting the folks who live, work and pay in the community will lead to a better long-range outcome.

    In the 26 or so years I have lived in Duluth I have watched the school district wobble all over the place, with the long-term objectives changing with each superintendent and maintenance of the buildings being neglected over and over, until the point when we “need” new schools.

    Now -- if they just have these meetings at times and a places that working people, who can’t take time off to go to meetings, can get to!!!

    wildknits | Aug 14, 2012 | New Comment
  2. This is the sort of leadership that the district needs. There’s no question, this is a tough decision -- the district needs to pass a referendum and the delay will put a burden on the operations.

    However, Gronseth has recognized that a thoughtful approach focused on planning and regaining the trust of the residents is what is needed first. I hope that in the coming year folks will rally behind their efforts and create a vision for a quality and modern education system that puts kids first.

    I’m going to be supporting Bill Gronseth through this process -- I hope others do as well…

    Don Ness | Aug 14, 2012 | New Comment
  3. We desperately need to pass levies for our schools and kids. However, delaying is the right decision. The voters need to be better informed before they can vote yes on a levy. We need to build support for the levies in advance (as I recall, there was a significant east-west divide on the last school levy votes).

    If we can demonstrate the effectiveness of a similar levy in a similar community, hopefully people will support it. People want to support the schoolkids, and do not want our kids (not to mention our future adults) disadvantaged relative to other kids. We need to show how school levies would help them.

    Sam | Aug 14, 2012 | New Comment

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