April 25, 2005

Beginning of the Road

By Dane Sorensen


Despite years of declining enrollment all over Northern Minnesota the quality of education has by and large been superior to what is offered in cities like Minneapolis or St. Paul. Unlike those schools which will hand out A's to students for just showing up, students on the Range still need to do homework and study for an A grade.

Recently, the Crosby Ironton School District just ended a bitter 8 week strike. During some of the strike the district hired about 40 scab teachers to continue classes. The strike was the longest strike in Minnesota in over twenty years. The main contention was health care benefits for retired teachers. Health care is the fastest growing expense for schools as it is for business and individuals.

Some families enrolled their children in neighboring school districts while others home schooled. Some students just looked upon the strike as a free vacation until they were called back to attend classes taught by the temporary teachers.

Collective bargaining is a good tool to work out differences. However, when an issue like health care starts to approach critical mass it is going to result in long strikes. In the future, I would not be surprised if we see longer strikes. I can't blame the teachers for wanting health coverage. They are college-educated professionals and deserve benefits of a professional. At the same time schools lack the ability to raise their operating budgets to cover double-digit insurance increases.

The Board did not exactly win friends by hiring scabs. The teachers did not help their cause by striking for so long. An estimated 200 students may not come back to the district. The result will be teacher layoffs. The school board is proposing to lay off 35% of its teachers. That would include four of the seven teachers on the negotiating team.

Now for the frosting on the cake. The most highly paid administrator in the district, Superintendent Linda Lawrie, has dictated that the teachers debase the entire education system by ordering them to give only A's and B's to the students. If I were an A or B average student attending C-I schools, I would feel cheated by this tawdry action. It is probably the best example of dumbing down and academic debasement I have heard of in Minnesota. If Ms. Lawrie felt bad for the students she could have given them a nice ice cream party paid out of her own pocket. If I was a voter in the district I would be very tempted to first vote out the current board and then send this hack of an educator packing.

The bottom half of the student body must be overjoyed. Instead of Cs, Ds or Fs - they get a giant boost in their GPA. If achievement is valued so poorly by this district perhaps they should just sell good grades to the students in order to balance the budget. Perhaps Crosby Ironton could corner the market on cheap mail order high school diplomas? I can see it now Magna Cum Luade for Only $1995.95 plus a free full page in the yearbook! In fairness to some of the teachers they have protested the Superintendent's order for debased grades. This is not the way to lure students back to the district. The school board should immediately override the Superintendent's foolish directive.

Crosby Ironton is a school district in crisis. It should not be an example for Ely to follow. I hope and pray that our teachers and school board have a better plan in dealing with the hemorrhaging of the budget because of health care costs.

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