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Helmut Schmidt, Published January 22 2013

Fargo School Board: Bluestem Center joint advisory board proposed

FARGO – A Fargo School Board member says it’s time to sing a little kumbaya with Moorhead city officials over the Bluestem Center for the Arts.

Board member John Strand proposed a motion Tuesday – to be fully considered at the board’s Feb. 12 meeting – to create a nine-member communications and advisory board for the Bluestem facility and the programs there.

“My intent here is to try and solidify our direction going forward,” Strand said.

Strand said he hopes the proposed board can improve communications and relations between the school board and the Moorhead City Council.

“We have some bridge building to do, and some opportunity in front of us to listen and to learn. Yes, we rent the facility, for maybe 60 more years, but the city of Moorhead owns it,” Strand said.

Strand said he believes both sides want the arts center to be “a gem in the community.”

“My hopes are that we can start partnering together in a very constructive way. I think the community is looking for that from all of us,” he said.

The motion calls for the advisory board to be made up of two members each from the school board and City Council; two members of community arts groups (one picked by the school board president, the other by Moorhead’s mayor); the Fargo schools superintendent; the Moorhead city manager; and the executive director of the Trollwood Performing Arts School, currently Kathy Anderson.

Several board members praised the initiative.

“I think it’s time for something like this,” Robin Nelson said, adding that it could end the confusion and acrimony that’s developed in the public debate.

“I like the makeup of it. And I like that it’s not overly weighted to Fargo Public Schools,” Linda Boyd said. “It goes a long way to accomplishing some good will in the community.”

But Paul Meyers said he wants the motion to be clear about what the board could do and not do.

“What are the powers and authority of the committee?” Myers asked.

“The actual bottom line is that this is a program of the Fargo Public Schools … at the least the Trollwood program is. And for the past 30 years the expense of the project has been borne by the Fargo Public Schools.”

Meyers said he would also like the makeup of the board tilted more toward the Fargo School District.

In a related matter, Business Manager Broc Lietz said the school district received information through a Minnesota Data Practice Act request on the communications of Moorhead city officials regarding Bluestem, TPAS and Fargo Public Schools, going back two years.

That request was made in reply to a December Moorhead City Council debate in which officials discussed the idea of taking the Fargo School District to court to determine if it was working to make the Bluestem Center a regional venue.

The Fargo School District in a recently released letter also threatened to sue the Moorhead City Council if it continued to publicly complain about how the Bluestem Center was run.

Moorhead council members directed city staff to make a North Dakota open records request for all documents, emails and memos written by Fargo School District staff regarding Bluestem, but Lietz said it has not been received.

Lietz said Fargo administrators also talked Tuesday with Moorhead city staff about language changes for a lease agreement for another 32.9 acres of land next to the Bluestem site for parking.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583

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