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Published March 13 2013

Forum editorial: Déjà vu in school discussion

To Fargo School District patrons who have been around for a while, developments the past week must seem like déjà vu. The neighborhood school issue is front and center again, although it has never really been off the school agenda.

A few years ago, maybe as far back as 10 years, the possibility the administration and school board would close older, smaller elementary schools stirred neighborhoods to action. At least one school board election turned on the issue. Board members who favored shuttering low-enrollment, less financially efficient neighborhood schools were replaced by neighborhood school preservationists. The message was received. Since then, the board has acted with that clear voter sentiment in mind. So-called paring and sharing arrangements, rather than closing schools, became the favored option.

A meeting this week about the district’s long-range facilities plan generated a standing-room-only crowd. Among a consultant’s options for the plan was repurposing or closing McKinley, Roosevelt, Hawthorne, Horace Mann and Clara Barton elementary schools. That caught the attention of the neighborhoods where those schools are viewed as community anchors.

The plea was the same: that neighborhood schools remain open. The argument for the schools was the same: viability of neighborhoods, small class sizes, close to families the schools serve. The determination to keep the schools open is as passionate today as it was the last time the district confronted the issue.

School board members who are conversant with the recent history of the district, are, as member John Strand said, “bringing the community to the issue … we’re passing the baton to the community.”

Good idea. As the board struggles with crowding at Kennedy elementary, for example, and considers the possibility of building another elementary school in south Fargo, the sentiment in long-established neighborhoods remains solidly in favor of preserving the older, smaller schools. That will not change, even if it’s obvious that economies of scale associated with bigger, newer schools save the district money. For parents and neighborhood leaders, it’s not only about the money. It’s about the quality of education and the quality of life. And those things are worth a lot.

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Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.