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Crisis in WAPS? (04/20/2008)
By John Edstrom

Following last week's vote of no confidence in Superintendent Paul Durand by the Winona Education Association (the public school teachers union) the school board met, and by unanimous vote, expressed continued confidence in Durand. It should be noted that three of those votes were cast by newly elected board members who the union had backed as replacements for incumbents they disliked.

Now the WEA has delivered a news release (but only to one of the Winona news media, not the Post) declaring that because of the superintendent, "there is a crisis in District 861. Our hope is that the school board recognizes there is a crisis and works with us to bring back trust, respect, and collaboration in the district."

Crisis? Since Durand arrived, a referendum was passed which enabled the teachers to wangle a hefty pay raise for the current biennium. And this referendum was passed against very stiff opposition, (this newspaper did not endorse it), mostly due to the ceaseless efforts of Mr. Durand, with no effort from the WEA aside from a constant background whine of carping and sniping. A new ALC building was constructed, and new athletic facilities are on the way. Class sizes are at an all-time low, the lowest average class size in the Big Nine, and for the first time in many years, the district is on a sound financial footing, after endless rounds of program cuts, teacher layoffs, and budgetary crises. I for one, do not appreciate paying the extra tax, but I am grateful that at least the money is buying what was promised and the district is no longer poor-mouthing on every occasion.

If you read through the long list of whereases in the WEA's vote of no confidence, and the district's response, it quickly becomes apparent that the perceived "crisis" is the newly discovered backbone in an administration and school board, not Durand alone, that is reining in on long-standing abuses and insisting that its employees live up to their contractual obligations. It was high school principal John Phelps, for instance, who decided that two, not four teachers were to be excused for a San Diego conference. It was, finally, the school board which refused to pay teachers who took personal days not authorized under their contract. And it was the board that ordered an independent audit into the funding shortfall of the Polish trip, with the result that some individuals were disciplined.

Of course, this change within ISD 861 begins with Durand, the first superintendent in many years, (my opinion), who takes his responsibilites to the public as a manager seriously enough to buck the union, or I should say, its elements which resist that change with a wailing and gnashing of teeth. That is a tough job, and has made him a lightning rod, for which parents and taxpayers should be grateful.




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