THE BEST EDUCATION WE CAN AFFORD


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By: John Nelson
Grand Rapids Voice

We all want the best possible education that we can afford for the children of ISD 318. After all, these are our children, our grandchildren, our nieces and nephews. We want their education to be the best possible because their education is the basis for their success in life and in their chosen careers. In our ever-changing world, education is the pillar on which our community and society stands. Nobody can dispute this.

The community is being asked by the ISD 318 School Board to approve an investment of $80 million to build two new grade schools to replace the four currently in use. They tell us that increasing student population and the best possible education for the children requires this investment in our children’s future. The school board does not say that a substantial contribution to the increase in student enrollment is due to the manner in which students are counted. Kindergarten children, when they attended half-day kindergarten, were counted as ½ student. However, now that kindergarten students attend all-day kindergarten, they are counted as 1 student. By making this simple change in the way students are counted, the enrollment in the primary grades increased over 10% without adding a new student to the enrollment. This hardly qualifies as a real increase in enrollment and makes the argument based on increased student population a myth.

In their publications, the school board also stated that the new schools would have space for “community involvement”. What exactly is “community involvement”? Are we to understand that they are including space for purposes other than educating our children? We agree school facilities are very important. But, we do not build schools as auditoriums and venues for “community involvement”.

When any of us find the need to make a significant investment, i.e. a new car, a new home, etc., we all have what we would want on one hand and what we can afford on the other. We may want all the bells and whistles of a luxury SUV but a mini-van will be sufficient to do what we need it to do without those wonderful extra things on our wish-list. The real question that confronts us is, “Can we afford the schools the school board proposes or is there a plan that more closely fits our ability to pay?”

There are many things to consider in determining what we can afford. The school board says that the increase in property tax will only be $8 per month to pay for the entire investment. This may be close for lower valued properties in the county but it is not for the average property. The average property owner will pay substantially more. While this may sound good and attractive, nowhere in their published material does the school board give the total cost over the term of the debt. We all know that when we buy a car or a home and make payments, the total amount we pay is far, far greater than the purchase price. The amount they are asking is $80 million but the total cost is significantly more and will saddle the properties in Itasca County with debt for 20-22 years. The community will be paying the debt and deserves to know the real cost of the indebtedness and not just a statement on what the cost would be to the lower valued properties.
We are already facing an 8% increase in county levy for wage increases of county employees as reported by Kitty Mayo in the Scenic Range News Forum on Thursday, September 17, 2015, Blandin has successfully litigated a case in Tax Court and the county must potentially repay Blandin $10 million due to over taxation, the tax values on Blandin’s forest land has been reduced from $190 million to $26 million, the City of Grand Rapids has bonded new projects that require an additional $4.275 million which will require increased tax levies to repay that debt together with interest; Enbridge Pipeline is closing its Number 3 pipeline through Itasca County and revenues from this closing are being lost. We live in a community where: property values are already decreasing; median per capita income is falling; unemployment is among the highest in the state; population, as a whole is decreasing, the City of Grand Rapids is already the sixth highest taxed per capita city in the state. In short, our capacity to pay for large debt is rapidly decreasing. Is there now or are we approaching insufficient population, income and employment to justify the financial burden of providing the board what they want and not what we, as a community, can afford?

Look to St. Joseph’s, for example. St. Joseph’s was able to construct a new school accommodating 175 students and a gymnasium for a total of $3.7 million. The ISD School Board states the proposed schools are to accommodate 900 students or just over 5 times the enrollment at St. Joseph’s. Based on a per child cost, St. Joseph’s could build a facility for 900 students for less than $20 million. Why, then, does the school board want us to believe that they need $80 million. Surely, there is a plan which is affordable and gives the community the best facilities and education the community can afford.

Grand Rapids Voice is actively working with the ISD 318 School Board, elected officials and the community to provide quality education for our children and facilities that we can afford.

8 thoughts on “THE BEST EDUCATION WE CAN AFFORD

  1. In an effort to understand what Mr. Blake is referring to above, I went to my Facebook page in an effort to find his comments apparently directed to me, nothing there. Now I will be the first to admit I am not that Facebook savvy but there was nothing. In an effort to get a handle on what was upsetting the gentleman I asked some folks much more internet experienced than myself what was going on here. I now know he was originally concerned with other peoples opinion on the District 318 bond issue, (kind of, we value every ones opinion as long as they agree with ours) None the less back to the story. It appears in an effort to lash out at me personally, Mr. Blake did not comment on my Facebook page as he thought he was doing, but rather the FB page that belongs to “Grand Rapids Voice”. “Grandrapidsvoice.com,” on the other hand is a web page operated by the group “Grand Rapids Voice” and the two pages interfaced by moderator which by the way is not me.
    So simply put Mr. Blake you did not comment to me on my personal Facebook page originally but rather Grand Rapids Voice’s and your wondering why it’s on their page? Robert Ward

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  2. Sholom Blake

    I’d like to open by saying that this is the first comment I have ever posted on this website and we can be fairly confident it will be the last. The comments that are attributed to me were not made on this website, although they were made to Mr. Ward and I have no reason not to stand by them. The misrepresentation of my comments and the crossing of what most would consider an ethical line doesn’t really concern nor surprise me as I probably should feel somewhat honored that Mr. Ward has chosen to attack me; I should most likely accept it as an indication that I’m on the right side of the issue.

    As long as I’m here I may as well set the facts straight. You can read the comment by Mr. Grabarkewitz to see the flaws in a few of the arguments presented in this article in addition to the facts of the current elementary school situation that are as follows:

    • Enrollment has grown by 26%. Our current elementary schools are overcrowded and that problem is not going away as our community continues to grow.
    • Our school district is one of the few in Minnesota that operates without a voter approved operating referendum and ranks among the lowest statewide in total general fund expenditures per pupil. The leaders of ISD 318 have proven to be good stewards of the community’s tax dollars.
    • Our total school property taxes are some of the lowest in the northland and are considerably lower than the state average and that will continue to be true even with the increase that will occur as a result of this bond referendum.
    • The alternative to this referendum, investing in the expansion and remodeling of aging buildings that are currently land locked does not make economic sense and would require the acquisition of adjoining residential property.
    • The cost per taxpayer on a home with a tax assessed value of $150,000 is $8 per month using the highest and most conservative cost estimate.

    The districts proposal is truly the most cost effective and efficient solution, in other words, it truly is the best education that we can afford. What we can’t afford is to do nothing!

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  3. Sholom Blake
    October 19 at 3:55pm

    This piece offers an interesting interpretation of the issue at hand; however, I think everyone should take the time to gather the facts on their own. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and we are all entitled to vote however we so choose, let’s just make sure that we don’t rely on misinformation and that we have the correct facts before we do so. If you would like to get more information please visit the school districts web site, Students First ISD 318 Facebook page or make a phone call to the district and ask whatever questions you might have. The facts of the current elementary school situation are as follows: • Enrollment has grown by 26%. Our current elementary schools are overcrowded and that problem is not going away as our community continues to grow. • Our school district is one of the few in Minnesota that operates without a voter approved operating referendum and ranks among the lowest statewide in total general fund expenditures per pupil. The leaders of ISD 318 have proven to be good stewards of the community’s tax dollars. • Our total school property taxes are some of the lowest in the northland and are considerably lower than the state average and that will continue to be true even with the increase that will occur as a result of this bond referendum. • The alternative to this referendum, investing in the expansion and remodeling of aging buildings that are currently land locked does not make economic sense and would require the acquisition of adjoining residential property. • The cost per taxpayer on a home with a tax assessed value of $150,000 is $8 per month using the highest and most conservative cost estimate. The districts proposal is truly the most cost effective and efficient solution, in other words, it truly is the best education that we can afford. What we can’t afford is to do nothing!

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  4. Jeff Grabarkewitz

    Two things about this article that I feel need clarification. The first is about the increase enrollment count I kindergarten. When the district had 1/2 day one classroom would service two kindergarten classes. Group A kids (anywhere between 20 -30) would come one day and Group B kids ( another 20-30 students) would come the other day. Now that all those kids come everyday they need to have two rooms. This need for more rooms is one of the reasons why our elementary schools have run out of space. Another reason is because each year for the past few years even more kids are attending our elementary schools.
    The second is the cost comparison to st. joe’s. Are the figures used to calculate cost for today or when the building was actually built? Unfortunately prices have gone up and will continue to go up. Also what about the parts of the church that were already built that the school uses, are those included? And a third is the land? Was the price of the land included in the figures mentioned? If we are to compare cost the please compare apples to apples.
    The bottom line is our elementary schools are old, outdated, and do not meet the needs of the youngest members of our community (the kids). They deserve a yes vote. Our community needs a yes vote in my opinion because the strength of the community schools leads to a stronger overall community.

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  5. Oct 10th, 12:38pm
    The term counter professional is quite comical when used by the Grand Rapids Voice…I learned long ago that those that choose to make up their own reality will never accept reality…

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  6. Grandrapidsvoice
    Sent by Robert Ward
    Oct 10th, 12:35pm
    Sholom, Thank you for your remarks and I am sure the group would welcome any factual information you might have to the contrary to be presented by you in person at anyone of their ever growing weekly meetings. I know they welcome all participants. I also know they have taken the time to work with many State agencies and also made the effort to take in factual information from other professionals on a variety of issues. I would hardly consider you as an over ridding authority at this point ,so is your concern for the public or your own personal gain? I couldn’t help but notice your comment however direct, lacked any factual substance or evidence to your claim other than sarcastic innuendo. Please present the subject matter you would like to discuss and I am sure they would be happy to bring in a counter professional in hopes of creating meaningful and insightful information for public consumption. I am sorry you feel the rest of the world is so intellectually deficient, it appears you are being led by your emotion rather than your intellect.

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  7. Oct 10th, 10:36am
    When you guys actually decide to post the truth let me know and maybe those of us who actually care about more than just ourselves can help with some of your statistics…The sad thing is that you actually have an audience and if you had real information and a message you might be able to do some good

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  8. Dan Turman

    Dr. Thomas said if we do not build these schools we will have capital expenditures. Being a lowly retired millwright I had just assumed that $80 million was a capital expenditure. I now wonder about a school board that would hire a person that has no interest in the communities future and makes ridiculous statements.
    So Dr. Thomas go watch the children on the playground and somebody else will watch the money.

    Like

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