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Chamber of Horrors
The Duluth Chamber of Commerce's latest muddled thinking 
about the Red Plan.

David Ross From the Duluth Budgeteer, May 4, 2008 Oh Yeah?

1. The Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce and its board of directors support Independent School District 709ís Long Range Facilities Plan. We believe the plan effectively addresses the districtís aging infrastructure; improves the educational adequacy of the districtís buildings and addresses the districtís declining enrollment and its current overcapacity. Moreover, the plan provides students and their parents the stability that comes from knowing what will occur within the district for years to come.

2. Duluth public schools have 28 percent too much space and are facing declining enrollment. The cost of owning and operating that space is concurrently increasing. Few businesses can justify or afford the cost of heating, maintaining and insuring that much excess space. Most business owners would make tough decisions to rectify such a situation.

The school board is like most business owners ó it made the tough decisions needed in order to be an effective business. The results of these decisions are manifested in the districtís Long Range Facilities Plan.

The plan takes Duluth from three high schools to two; four middle schools to two; and 11 elementaries to nine. It also rebuilds or refurbishes those remaining schools and brings them to modern standards.

It is a bold initiative that will require a $257 million investment; 3. residents will see a $125 million tax impact.

Yet, 4. there is no time better than today to begin the work at hand. Interest rates are low; executing the project now means the district can lock in low-interest rates for 20 years. Construction costs are only going to get higher. Waiting, as we have unfortunately done for far too many years, only makes the projects more expensive.

5. Investing in our schools is a long overdue initiative. 6. The average age of our school buildings is 54 years old. More than 60 percent of our school space doesnít meet code in areas including: air and water quality; handicap accessibility and the ability to support modern educational programs. Most of our schools were built when security wasnít such a seminal issue.

7. If the cost to bring an old school up to standards is more than 60 percent of the cost of a new school, state standards require school districts to build a new school in order to receive funds for construction. That is why the plan includes a combination of school renovation and the building of new schools.

8. The Duluth Area Chamber of Commerceís Board of Directors endorsed and advocated for the implementation of the Long Range Facilities Plan. Further, the Chamber and its leadership continue to have confidence in the effective implementation of the plan by the Duluth Public Schools Board and the Superintendent of Schools.

The Duluth Public Schools Board has been implementing the plan for the past year. Financing has been secured. Bonds have been sold. Construction plans have been completed. Supplies have been assembled. Properties have been purchased. 9. Work is underway.

10. I hope we, as a community, can come to fully understand and respect how the decision to move forward with the plan is no longer open to debate. The decision was made a year ago. It has been acted upon. It is done.

Let us redirect our collective attention to supporting the School District as it endeavors to move our community forward.



1. It would be interesting to survey the entire Chamber of Commerce membership but supporters of the Red Plan donít seem very eager to know what the larger community really thinks about it.

2. Why should it take $293 million dollars ($407 million counting interest) to eliminate 28% too much space?

3. These are the facts. The District told the State Dept of Education that it will cost $437 million (since revised to $407 million) to pay for the Red Plan. The County Auditor is currently levying 46% of this cost against taxpayers in the Duluth School District . 54% of the Red Planís costs have yet to be levied. Dr. Dixon is promising that they wonít be levied now or ever over the twenty years it will take to pay off the Red Plan. Dixon claims that the money to pay for the new schools will come out of school operations - the classroom Ė over the next twenty years.

First, There will be nine school board elections between now and the final payment on the Red Plan. Dr. Dixon can not make promises for future school boards. His school board may follow him blindly but future boards are unlikely to honor such a foolish promise.
Second, The cuts already being discussed by this school board for next year are so draconian that they can give no thinking person confidence in the Dixon board.
Third, Removing $11 million dollars from school operations each year for twenty years to pay for the Red Plan (the other 54% of it) will leave our new schools with impoverished programs and over crowed classrooms.
Fourth, Behind the appeal to pass a fall levy is a threat: ďIf you donít pass the operational levy this fall we will make terrible classroom cuts and it will be the voterís fault.

4. Because of an insatiable world demand for building materials we will be buying them at a greatly inflated cost. Besides, buying something unnecessary because interest rates are low is as stupid as buying something you donít need because itís on sale. 

5. This is a myth. In 1989 a public outcry about the dilapidated state of Duluth ís schools prompted the School Board to begin a "Ten Year Plan" which poured $2 million annually into school maintenance. Duluth has invested $30 million dollars in our schools over the last fifteen years.

6. Most Duluthians live in homes that are older than this. They are not tearing them down and rebuilding them because interest rates are low.

7. This is the legal justification for letting the School Board build new schools even though they are not needed. Legal, yes. Sensible, no.

9. So, in the Chamber of Commerceís opinion, once weíve made a mistake good business practice tells us that itís too late to stop or correct it.

10. To paraphrase Mr. Ross: "I hope the people of Duluth will stop pointing out what a bone headed plan the Chamber has been promoting.Ē


If you care about Duluth and its schools 
don't put your faith in the Duluth News Tribune
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