Part 4, The Puck Stops Here
After the failure of the 2001 excess levy referendum the Duluth School Board had only one practical option to avoid program cuts and teacher layoffs - close schools. Since no school board majority could be mustered to close either a high school or elementary schools we endured two years of privation.
When 2003 rolled around we had a new opportunity to
reinstate an operational levy for classroom spending. This was the year I
planned to retire from the board after eight years. I’d made the best case I
could for closing a high school and failed. My only major objective left was
passing a levy referendum. Then the Superintendent dropped a puck on the Board.
His administration decided to replace
Coach Mike Randolph was a controversial figure in the fanatical world on the ice. Some people considered him a great motivator. Others considered him psychologically abusive; the kind of guy who strung marginal players along for years only to discard them in their senior year after squeezing them for years to raise money for the hockey program. I had been pleased to have Mike as a two-high school supporter and now I was being asked to relieve Mike of his coaching duties.
Needless to say the coach’s fans demanded an explanation
only we couldn’t give them one. The law forbade the Administration from
revealing private data. Offering an explanation even to School Board members
would subject the District to a lawsuit.
The coach’s fans, led by Bob Brooks, were the first to
lobby me. They were loud if not legion. Brooks’ son, a DAHA coach, threatened
not to vote for me if I didn’t support
When forty of the coach’s fans showed up for a second
time to holler at the Board School Board, Chairman Bob Mars wanted to cut them
off. The fans had already singled Mars out as an enemy and his brusque treatment
made them apoplectic. Although I was going to vote against them I thought they
should be given one last chance to make their case so I persuaded Bob and the
Board to let them speak their piece. The abuse they heaped on Mars almost made
me regret I’d given them a last chance to speak. After the meeting Tom Hustad,
whose office manager was
It was a tempest in a teapot. Forty angry
Hundreds of Denfeld residents met through the summer to save their high school. At one of their meetings all the school board members were asked whether they would ever consider closing Denfeld. Only Bob Mars said yes explaining, quite rightly, that it wouldn’t be fair to exempt any of the high school if we were going to have a fair discussion. It was the honest thing to say and a brave thing for Bob because, unlike me, he was planning to run for reelection.
When the time for filing came I was torn. I knew that a
former Board member who I didn’t much like was thinking about running for my
seat. I’d asked a number of people to run in my place to make sure my old foe
would not replace me. When I couldn’t find someone else I decided to run. Then
Tom Hustad, filed for my seat. Ordinarily I would have been pleased as punch but
Tom was out to avenge the hockey coach. I have a healthy ego and for a couple
days I seriously considered fighting the East Hockey crowd until I realized I
would just be punishing myself. I had no desire to saddle myself with four more
years on the Board. Other than our disagreement about
There was just one last thing for me to do. The Denfeld
crowd decided that to guarantee Denfeld’s safety all three high schools should
be kept open. Nancy Nilson stepped forward to lead them and she presented the
School Board with an ultimatum. If we agreed to keep three high schools open
until the high school population dropped to 2,800 students, the Denfeld folks
would support an excess levy for classroom use. I bit my two-high school lips
and knuckled under to the coercion. Money for the classroom trumped closing a
high school. The 2003 excess levy passed. Denfeld remained open and west
Anyone wishing to
insure a public vote on the Red plan can visit letduluthvote.com or call:
390-7768. More Red
Plan Chronicles next week.