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Wendy Reuer, Published March 12 2013

Fargo School Board meeting draws standing-room only crowd

FARGO – Parents, grandparents and residents of Fargo made passionate pleas to the school board Tuesday night, asking that their neighborhood schools remain open as the district moves forward with a long-range facilities plan.

The standing-room-only crowd – a dozen of which donned red and blue “Save Clara Barton/Hawthorne” buttons – prepared to hear a report on the progress of the plan Tuesday night. Instead, residents learned the school board is not moving forward until they’ve heard more options from the community.

“The meeting tonight reflects the new phase we’re going into, and that is bringing the community to the table,” school board member John Strand said. “At this moment in time, we’re passing the baton to the residents.”

The Long Range Facilities Planning Committee has created a “community committee” that will meet in the upcoming weeks to make recommendations that can help ease the overcrowding of Kennedy Elementary and plan for the future of the district’s school buildings.

Superintendent Jeff Schatz said the committee will be composed of about 27 members who represent all school PTAs and include residents, teachers, neighborhood representatives and representatives from the city of Fargo and business interests. The committee will hold a series of meetings starting on March 21.

Many of the residents who came to speak Tuesday night felt they had to act after a report was released last month that suggested the school board close one or more of its oldest schools.

In early February, district staff and consultants ICS Consulting of Mounds View, Minn., worked up three options to include in the long-range plan. Each option examined ways to repurpose or replace the older McKinley, Roosevelt, Hawthorne, Horace Mann and Clara Barton elementary schools, and all three options recommended building a new school in south Fargo.

After word spread about the possibility of repurposing some of the schools, neighborhood associations banded together last month to form the Alliance for Neighborhood Schools.

Ellen Shafer, a member of the alliance, said the possibility of schools closing took neighborhoods by surprise. Residents said keeping the schools open is vital to older neighborhoods.

“We will go to great lengths to protect this neighborhood,” said Merrill Piepkorn, a resident of the Hawthorne neighborhood. “We’re here tonight because we love our neighborhoods, all of them.”

Residents who spoke Tuesday night urged the school board to keep the process of forming a long-range facility plan open and focused on academic progress.

Amy Rand, a parent at Horace Mann Elementary and president of the Roosevelt Neighborhood Association, said the small class sizes are an asset to the community.

Jennifer Benson, a Kennedy Elementary parent, said she agrees, but small class sizes are impossible with the large number of Kennedy students.

Kennedy now has about 723 students, with a capacity of 748 students. Projections show that by this fall, it could open with 832 students.

“We can’t continue to have Band-Aids. There has to be a better way,” Benson said.

School board member Kris Wallman said the committee is not resigned to the three options already discussed.

After the community committee makes recommendations for the plan, opportunities for the public to give feedback will be planned, said board member Dinah Goldenberg.

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