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New Edison high school raises questions

I sincerely hope Duluth is following what is happening with the proposed Edison charter high school. And knowing Duluth, I am confident the answer is yes. But for those who may have missed the latest news, a refresher is perhaps warranted.

Some years back, you may recall the great debate over our public school system here in ISD 709. After a sometimes contentious discussion, the public school board of ISD 709 approved what became known as the Red Plan. Part of that plan included consolidating our three high schools into two and Duluth Central High School was closed. Part of the reasons were centered on cost and some of the reasons centered on numbers of students. Regardless of how you felt about the plan or its process, the elected school board made a decision and the plan was enacted. We are well beyond the point of turning back.

Fast forward to this school year. We still continue to see discrepancies in enrollment between East and Denfeld, something that could be resolved with proper policy and enforcement of district lines. That, I feel, is in the hands of the ISD 709 elected board and the administration.

What is becoming a growing concern, from the perspective of a state lawmaker, is the latest announcement by Edison Charter Schools that their board has approved moving ahead with construction of a new high school. I am worried about the effect on Duluth's K-12 public school system and our two remaining high schools.

Now, before Edison parents get too upset with me, please understand that I respect your right to choose a school for your children. I have no choice but to respect that the Edison board is acting within the current law. But folks, we are talking about a third "public" high school which in reality will draw several hundred students potentially from ISD 709 and other surrounding districts.

As a lawmaker, I have to consider all sides and determine what is in the best interest of my legislative district and of the State of Minnesota. And what is really bugging me? Edison charter schools are entitled to public dollars just like ISD 709 is. That is the current law. But the Edison board is not an elected board. It is an appointed board, not held accountable to the voters of Duluth or of ISD 709.

Is that a big deal? I am asking Duluth to have that very conversation. It does seem to me that at the very least, any school system receiving public funding should be required to have a board elected by the taxpaying voters in the district it serves. Why? Because I have a sense that if this school is built, we will see enrollment concerns in ISD 709, which will be followed by further discussions on how to do more with less. And I am just not ready to accept that is in the best interest of our kids.

Later this summer I plan to call a town hall discussion to hear testimony to the state of K-12 education in Duluth. So I ask all of you, if you are concerned one way or the other, to weigh in on this issue, preferably before we get too far down a path from which we cannot recover.

Erik Simonson, DFL-Duluth, is the Minnesota state representative for District 7B.

Erik Simonson

Erik Simonson, DFL-Duluth, represents District 7 in the Minnesota Senate. He may be contacted at (651) 296-4188.