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You Don't Have to Ride Jim Crow!

Jean Birkenstein Washington

Boston Herald

MSNBC feature

Robin Washington

School Board does its part — goal now is excellence
Duluth News Tribune, June 21, 2007

It wasn’t pretty, it was emotional and it could have been hijacked by no end of side issues. Nevertheless, at its most important meeting in years, the Duluth School Board did what it needed to do Tuesday night and passed the “red plan,” beginning the necessary, if painful, reconfiguration of Duluth’s public schools.

With equal resolve, the board went on to approve the plan’s $257 million price tag without a referendum. For Duluth, it is an unprecedented amount of money to be considered by such a small group of people. Yet that’s how representative government works, and if voters are unhappy, they can send School Board members packing at the next election. Before doing so, however, voters should compare the cost of the plan versus the price of doing nothing.

Data to evaluate that choice can be found in the thousands of pages on the Web site of Independent School District 709 (www.duluth., for which the long range facility plan process is by no means over with the nod from the board.

Key in the yet-to-be-decided category is the boundary of the two high schools. One scenario that’s all but off the table is the original plan of splitting the city at 14th Avenue East. Along with creating sharp racial and economic imbalances, its dividing line would be a street perceived by some as an unofficial onetime racial boundary. “We never would have chosen that had we known,” Jeff Schiltz of Johnson Controls, the district’s consultant on the long range plan, told the News Tribune’s editorial page staff.

The school administration’s alternative boundary ideas include several that would move it to Sixth Avenue East, and one splitting the city at 10th Avenue East, none of which would result in a meaningful demographic shift.

The one that does — the district’s innovative “left-right” split, or Plan 5A —would all but eliminate the disparities. The accompanying graphic compares the scenarios.

The goal is not to create two high schools, but two excellent high schools. The left-right plan, which would create two equal schools at the outset, is the obvious way to achieve it.

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