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Published August 03 2013

Forum editorial: Good work by alliance for schools

The neighborhood schools debate again is high on the agenda of the Fargo School Board. Not unlike a similar discussion about a decade ago, residents of the potentially affected neighborhoods fear closing, repurposing or pairing older schools could undermine the cohesiveness of their discreet communities. Their fears are justified.

Unlike the last go-’round on neighborhood schools, the level of organization this time is impressive. The Alliance for Neighborhood Schools is not merely an ad hoc collection of critics. Rather, representatives from 10 neighborhood associations and school PTAs are, in effect, a focused research organization that has compiled a report to make the case that the old schools should not only remain open and active but should be repaired and rejuvenated. It’s very good work.

The well-documented report was submitted to the school board. Without going into detail, the research leads to conclusions that support maintaining the city’s existing neighborhood schools. The work underscores the value of the schools as it relates to academic excellence and fiscal responsibility.

The board received the report last month. If members read it, they couldn’t help but come away with the impression the neighborhood associations are serious and highly informed. Of course, the board has tended to rely on consultants to do district facilities studies; and well-paid consultants often come back with data that supports the board’s and/or administration’s biases. After all, the school district pays the consultants. If a consultant wants work in the future, it makes sense to confirm the board’s “wisdom.”

The neighborhood schools alliance is not an outside consultant. It’s a volunteer grass-roots assemblage of parents and others, the sole purpose of which is to ensure the best possible schools for the families who live in the city’s mature neighborhoods. And it follows that a thriving school often is the anchor that keeps a neighborhood healthy – and that’s a value that goes beyond the school.

Early indications are the board does not intend to close any of the older schools. That’s fine as far as it goes. But neglect of older buildings and failure to fund improvements are recipes for the schools’ decline. If buildings deteriorate, the expense of repairs goes up. Official neglect leads to a self-fulfilling prediction that the schools can’t be preserved.

That scam won’t fly. Members of the alliance get it. They are not shouting from the sidelines but rather doing the kind of comprehensive studies that can’t be ignored or dismissed. The board should pay attention.

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