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Published September 25 2013

Forum editorial: Good call for older schools

A decision Tuesday by the Fargo School Board puts to rest, for now, the long-standing debate over the fate of the district’s older elementary schools. A unanimous board voted to keep all the city’s older schools open, and to retrofit them with modern air conditioning systems. Several of the old buildings were closed for a few days in August during unusually hot and humid weather.

The board acted in concert with the wishes of the district’s constituents. The debate about the fate of older buildings has been on the agenda for more than a decade. At every turn, people of neighborhoods anchored by elementary schools let board members know the schools were vital, not only for education but also for the health of the neighborhoods. In the latest ramping up of the discussion, neighborhood residents organized into an unprecedented coalition of informed parents and others. They did not merely shout from the sidelines. The work they did to build a case for the schools was comprehensive and convincing.

In the end (or what seems to be the end for now), the political factor also was pivotal. Only a few years ago, voters tossed out school board members who wanted to close neighborhood schools. Challengers who championed the schools were elected. That history hangs over the board as a reminder to pay attention to what parents want in their neighborhood schools.

It will be expensive to bring cooling systems in old buildings up to modern standards. But there is little doubt district patrons want the board to make the investment. And the fiction that the buildings are underutilized because of slipping enrollment in established neighborhoods does not stand up to scrutiny of the numbers. The schools are needed and, given trends in the city, will be needed for a long time.

A unanimous board is rare. But board members have wrestled with the neighborhood schools matter for years. They came to consensus. Maybe they can put the matter aside for a while because this time they got it right.

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