May 19, 2007
District will endorse Denfeld-Ordean plan
By Sarah Horner
The Duluth school district
announced Friday its intention to move forward with the red proposal,
inching Central High School and several other schools closer to
closure as part of the district's long-range facilities plan.
The plan, recommended by Superintendent Keith
Dixon and a commmunity taskforce called the Citizens Group, rose
to the top after a professional survey found the majority of respondents
supported it. The results were in line with feedback Dixon and the
Citizen's Group said they have heard from community over the past
The recommendation will go before the Duluth School
Board for a first reading Thursday. A final vote will be taken in
If approved, the landscape of the district will
drastically change. Only Denfeld High School will remain as a historic
fixture of Duluth high schools. East High School would be reconfigured
into a middle school and replaced by a new high school built on
the site of Ordean Middle School. Central High School would close.
Middle schools would be reduced from four to two, and elementary
schools from 12 to nine.
The remaining elementary schools out west would
feed into one new western middle school, and then to Denfeld. Eastern
elementary schools would feed into East for middle school, then
into a renovated and expanded Ordean.
All schools would be refreshed, renovated or expanded
to become what Dixon calls new or like new schools.
“I do believe that the best solution is
a two high school plan,” Dixon said. “I think the community
knew it, has known it … and I believe the community made the
And racial or socioeconomic divide that occurs
as a result of implementing the plan could be addressed programmatically
or through other means yet to be explored by the district, Dixon
said. No specific solutions have been named.
The cost to the district would be about $257 million,
but additional savings gained from closing schools and selling off
surplus properties, including Central High School, would be used
to lower the cost. Owners of a $125,000 home, the median home value
in Duluth, would see their property taxes rise between $8 and $10
a month, according to Mike David, account executive with Johnson
“We are excited about providing this district
with a much, much needed overhaul bringing these schools to world-class
levels, but doing it cost effectively,” said Bob Brooks, co-chair
of the Citizens Group.
Eric Kaiser, continuous improvement facilitator
for the district and former principal, said the changes represent
the most global facelift he has seen in his 33-year tenure with
Duluth public schools.
“This is the first time I’ve seen
something this comprehensive and far-reaching for the district,”
A similar attempt, though less extensive, occurred
about four years ago when a group of principals, led by Kaiser,
tried to pass a long-range facilities plan. Chester Park Elementary
closed, but the rest of the plan never came to fruition.
A demographic analysis released a few months ago
by Johnson Controls, the consulting firm leading the charge this
time, found a 25 percent drop in enrollment across the district
over the past decade. Numbers are expected to keep falling until
2013, eventually stabilizing at about 9,600 students in 2022. Schools
were once brimming with more than 20,000 students in the 1970s.
Today there are about 10,000.
A facilities condition assessment also found about
33 percent excess space in the district’s buildings.
It is still unclear whether the public will get
the chance to vote on this consolidation plan. Duluth is not legally
required to hold a public vote to pass a bond referendum, but the
school board has not yet decided if it will exercise that authority.
Two community meetings
are scheduled to discuss the red recommendation next week, before
the first reading to the board on Thursday.