Denfeld News

Dec. 16, 2009
Duluth News Tribune

A year without Denfeld
By Sarah Horner

Despite pleas from community members, the Duluth School Board voted Tuesday night to downsize from three high schools to two next year, one year ahead of schedule under the long-range facilities plan.

Board members voted 6-1 to temporarily close Denfeld High School next fall while the district finishes construction at the school. It will reopen for the start of the 2011-2012 school year, the same year Central High School is scheduled to close for good.

Only board member Gary Glass voted against the closure, which district administrators say will save about $1.3 million and allow for construction to continue safely at Denfeld without interfering with students’ education.

Glass said there are still a lot of unanswered questions about how the transition will take place.

“I am not going to move ahead with this plan because it is massively incomplete,” he said.

Saying the red plan strips schools out of the center of the city and takes opportunities away from students, several community members in attendance Tuesday asked board members to table the decision on the Denfeld closure and all other decisions related to the facilities plan until the new board sits in January. Many also asked board members to consider a new facilities plan called Red Plan Plus that was recently developed by a group of community members.

That proposal calls for three seventh- to 12th-grade schools at Denfeld, Central and Ordean.

Tom Kasper, who will join the board as an At Large representative in January, was one of about 20 people who spoke.

“I am going to ask you as an incoming School Board member to refrain from voting on the resolutions. … If I was in your seat I would do that for you,” Kasper said.

But board members including Nancy Nilsen and Laura Condon said temporarily closing Denfeld was the best decision. Condon pointed out that to allow kids to be at Denfeld during construction could add an additional $8 million in construction costs.

“That money would come out of the refurbishing of that high school and I don’t think that’s right,” Condon said. “There are also educational advantages and health and safety advantages to doing this.”

The consolidation will force lots of tough decisions to take place this winter, such as how students and staff will be divided between the two schools next year.

The district has organized a transition committee made up of teachers, administrators, students and parents to help navigate the details. All decisions are expected to be made by spring.

Also Tuesday, board members voted to accept the next set of designs for the new western middle school and a series of change orders related to other construction projects in the long-range facilities plan.

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