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Residents Question Co-Located School on Iron Range

Updated: 04/01/2014 10:34 PM
Created: 04/01/2014 10:21 PM WDIO.com
By: Travis Dill
tdill@wdio.com

Officials from the Eveleth-Gilbert, Virginia and Mountain Iron-Buhl school districts met Tuesday to take steps toward money state lawmakers approved last month for new cooperative schools on the Iron Range. To make it a reality they'll have to win over passionate residents already voicing opposition.

“They're saying, 'Well we decided based on our judgment,' without any community impact, and these people represent the community so if this isn't what the community wants they're not representing us,” Niecie Strand said.

Strand is from Virginia and has children in the school district. She and other residents were concerned about how the site for the co-located high school was chosen. Current plans would have it built in Mountain Iron and just a stone's throw from where the joint powers committee meeting was held Tuesday.

Strand said school officials seemed rigid on the location and residents want a choice in the matter.

“To make a plan and have it be one end result without any community feedback, without any clear understand if that truly is the best option doesn't seem a good way to move forward,” Strand said.

She and others at the meeting questioned if a new school must be built. The citizens asked if other options were available like refurbishing an existing school. However the three districts moved forward with the rough plan to get state funding set up.

Last month, legislators passed and Governor Mark Dayton signed into law a change for taconite taxes. It puts $10 million annually into a fund for new school buildings, but only if districts cooperate according to Virginia Superintendent Daron Stender.

“We've taken a look at our facilities and the cost of fixing up old facilities, making them energy efficient, and I can say the intent of the legislation was not for our school districts to remodel, repair and put Band-Aids on things,” Stender said.

So the committee members will bring a joint powers agreement to each school board for a vote. If passed the joint powers committee can do studies to flesh out the details of the co-location plan.

“The course may change. The path that we're going down is a path that the three school boards have committed to at this point. It's not to say that it's the path we're going to continue to go down, but we're going to listen to our constituents,” Stender said.

Residents want to hear how bigger classes could mean better education options for students, but Strand said the discussion is off to a rough start.

“I would hope so except for they're already limiting the discussion. They've already decided what the end result is and so it's hard to have an open dialogue when you've already basically decided what it is,” Strand said.

School officials said the joint powers agreement is just a small step and the public has more time for input on the plan, but everyone agreed it will be an emotional process.

The co-location plan won't pass without resident approval according to school officials. When the details are ironed out it will be put to a vote in every community involved.

The school districts are putting out more information and meeting updates on this website.

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