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School board hears comments on schools, emphasizes ongoing conversation

Members of the Grand Forks School Board, at their meeting Monday, Jan. 8, heard from a parent concerned about the future of her neighborhood school, Wilder Elementary.

Wilder is among a few schools that have been identified as under consideration for future school consolidation scenarios.

Shannon Mikula, a member of the Riverside Park Neighborhood Association, asked school board members to consider the "collateral impact of closure on the neighborhoods" where the schools are located, but also the impact on the neighborhoods "where you're going to be diverting these students to."

Mikula emphasized the importance of considering the "collateral economic consequences" of school closures and consolidation.

"A number of (Wilder) families not only desire walkability, it's a necessity," she said.

If a nearby school is closed, and bussing is necessary, the cost for families to bus their child to school is $700 per year, Mikula said.

In her comments to the school board, Mikula said she provided a flash drive to the superintendent's office that included journal articles citing research on the effectiveness of smaller schools, Grand Forks school district policies and past school board statements about the quality of the district's facilities.

She invited board members to review the material on the flash drive.

School Board President Doug Carpenter emphasized that the scenarios the board has received from its Facilities Committee "are not recommendations; they're scenarios."

"We are in the planning process," he said. "We need to allow the community to have the opportunity to speak as they wish, and there will be other meetings" where the public can provide input on the future of the district's schools.

A public forum is planned for 7 p.m. Jan. 22 at South Middle School.

"We will solicit input to most effectively and efficiently spend our dollars to provide the best education possible for the students in our district," Carpenter said.

"There's not going to be a vote by this board (on this matter) in the next six months," he said.

Carpenter stressed that residents should be informed—at the forum and through other means—that the board welcomes their ideas concerning the schools.

"We want ideas," he said. "Get your ideas to a board member. It will be considered, and it will be looked at."

At an upcoming forum, public input will be gathered in a survey. Those who cannot attend may view the forum presentation on a YouTube video, see documents distributed at the forum, and complete the survey online.

At Monday's meeting, the school board was given a timeline for election of board members by Ed Gerhardt, the district's business manager.

Five seats on the board will be up for election in June.

Deadline for submission of applications is 4 p.m. April 9.