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Helmut Schmidt, Published April 22 2013

Neighborhood alliance wary of school planning

FARGO – Amy Rand of the Roosevelt Neighborhood Association knows why she lives by Roosevelt Elementary School: It’s small, and her neighbors are close.

“The principal said to me one day, ‘I know every child in the building, their pets and their siblings. And we can see their troubles and intervene,’ ” Rand said Monday at the school. She added that bigger doesn’t always mean better.

“Six hundred-plus student schools don’t fit the scale of this neighborhood,” Rand said.

Monday night was a celebration of small schools at Roosevelt, as about 220 people followed an Alliance for Neighborhood Schools rally on the school’s front steps by joining a forum with school board members in the gym.

There they got an update on the school district’s facilities planning and a chance to quiz their representatives.

Most present lived near the paired Roosevelt and Horace Mann elementary schools.

Both of the aging schools – Roosevelt has been open 91 years and Horace Mann about 98 years – are among buildings that could be consolidated, repurposed or put to other uses in the school district’s next 10-year construction plan.

The meeting comes just a few days after the third of the school district’s Long Range Facility Task Force meetings.

“We’ve had some concerns about the task force. Sometimes we feel the questions being asked are kind of leading,” said Ken Enockson, a Roosevelt area resident and a moderator of the forum. “It feels like it’s a little too guided.”

School board members John Strand, who leads the board’s long-range facilities planning subcommittee, and Robin Nelson talked about the planning process and took questions.

While the meeting was generally calm, there was an undercurrent of intense emotion that, at times, burst forth.

Residents said north side neighborhoods shouldn’t be judged like their larger south side counterparts.

“We are Horace Mann Roosevelt Neighborhood. We are one (school). We are equal to south side neighborhoods! I take high offense!” said Stephanie Ketterl, who lives near the Red River. “My children have gotten much better educations since we moved to the north side.”

Nelson, who attended Horace Mann and has children in north side schools, said the school board is visiting the same issues it took on 10 years ago with declining enrollments at the north side schools. That was stemmed then by pairing schools, she said.

“If we don’t make changes now, we’ll be back here seven to 10 years from now,” Nelson said.

The board’s most recent 10-year plan was created about 2002, but ended with the opening of Davies High School two years ago.

The school district is growing at about 200 students a year. Or, one elementary school’s worth of kids every 2½ years, Strand said. Much of that growth is in the city’s south and southwest.

In fact, the school board will consider a plan tonight to relieve enrollment pressure at Kennedy Elementary School, Strand said. Sometime soon, the board will also have to decide when and where it will have to build another south side elementary school, he said.

Nelson said the decision-making is bringing out the “emotional piece” of the process. “That needs to be part of the data,” she said.

“The big question, and I’m sorry, is: At what cost can small, neighborhood schools be kept open?” Nelson asked. “That’s my job as a board member, to find where that sweet spot is.”

Neighborhood resident Pam McGee disagreed, saying other considerations besides money must be weighed. “This is not a financial decision. This is a decision about families and children,” McGee said.

Other school board members at the meeting included Kris Wallman and Paul Meyers.

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