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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

County school system

When a school district no longer serves community interests, it’s time for it to go

Posted 12/10/10

The continued operation of the St. Louis County School District, at least in its current form, no longer serves the interests of communities in northern St. Louis County.

For years, residents of …

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County school system

When a school district no longer serves community interests, it’s time for it to go

Posted

The continued operation of the St. Louis County School District, at least in its current form, no longer serves the interests of communities in northern St. Louis County.

For years, residents of the school district have understood the disadvantages of this geographically sprawling and disjointed school district. They include:

• A teachers’ contract that allows district-wide bumping rights that discourage teachers from living in the communities where they work.

• An administration that works in a centralized office in Virginia and is frequently out of touch with the needs and concerns of residents at individual school sites.

• A disturbing lack of accountability throughout the system, which has left a long list of educational needs unaddressed.

• Difficulty in passage of operating levies due to voter concerns that dollars raised won’t benefit their local schools.

Despite such disadvantages, the district has survived, largely out of the belief that by sharing administrative functions, the district’s seven schools were better off financially. That conventional wisdom, however, has been badly shaken by the facts. As we reported last week, administrative costs in ISD 2142 are substantially higher, on a per-school and per-student basis, than in the vast majority of very small, independent school districts, including many right here in northern Minnesota. If places like Tower-Soudan, Cook, and Orr can run independent school districts, and do so with lower administrative costs than are incurred right now to operate each of their individual schools, what purpose does the St. Louis County School District serve?

While the county school model may make sense in theory, in practice it has grown incredibly top-heavy with administration, which now consumes nearly 18 percent of the district’s operating budget, according to numbers developed by financial consultant Tom Watson.

Operating as small, independent school districts would offer our communities in the north significant advantages. Administrative costs could be trimmed, yet administration would be far more responsive and accountable to the community, because the superintendent/principal and other administrators would be located in the local school buildings, where problems could be addressed immediately.

As independent districts, 100 percent of local dollars from operating levies would go to the local school, making passage easier. Since teachers and other staff would know they would no longer be bumped to a far-off location, they would be more likely to locate in the communities where they work— where they would contribute to the growth and vitality of the community.

The local school board would be far more accountable, as well, to the communities they represent. A local school board, after hearing virtually universal support for maintaining a valued community asset, such as the Tower pool, would have never made a decision to close it. They would have sought creative solutions to balance finances and community interests, because that’s how an accountable school board acts. Voters in the St. Louis County Schools, on the other hand, have virtually no ability to check the actions of the current school board, no matter how irresponsible and short-sighted they may be. Residents across northern St. Louis County are learning that lesson the hard way. An unaccountable and poorly-led school board has left the district badly divided and is threatening communities in the north with devastating school closures that are opposed by huge majorities of residents.

Unfortunately, changing the destructive status quo won’t be easy. The administrators and school board members who currently control the district have made it clear that they are more interested in the survival of their institution, and their bureaucratic perks and pay, than they are in the survival of our communities or providing educational opportunity to our students. As administrators and the school board pondered a major restructuring in order to head off financial problems, they ignored completely their largest cost center—their administrative office in Virginia. When it came time for sacrifice, they put that burden on the backs of students, parents, taxpayers and communities, while the district’s administrative bureaucracy continues to grow unchecked.

Our communities shouldn’t have to put up with it. The school district is supposed to serve our communities, but the current school board and administrators see it the other way around. As it stands, our communities in the north are little more than hostages, forced to pay the price of a restructuring plan that lavishes benefits on Cherry and AlBrook, while leaving our communities struggling and our kids facing unacceptably-long bus rides.

While this school board is unresponsive, people in our communities need to keep faith with our kids, and continue to work for alternatives. Among those alternatives should be dismantling of the St. Louis County School District. It no longer serves the interests of those of us in the north.

Comments

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"The continued operation of the St. Louis County School District, at least in its current form, no longer serves the interests of communities in northern St. Louis County."

Where have I seen this before.... Ah yes, why don't we replace "St. Louis County School District" with "8th District" prior to November 2, 2010, and you would have the primary explanation of why Jim Oberstar lost recently.

Oh and say Jim, have a Merry Christmas back home in Maryland! Cheers and God Bless.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I live in Tower and i agree. It is outdated and non-sensensical to have so many dollars spread so far on so few students. Bus everyone to existing local schools and loses ISD 2142. The school board and the district's employees do not deserve their jobs.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

I was not talking about teachers and support staff in schools with the last post. They do a great job. I am speaking to the "decision makers" who have foolhardedly downsized some town's schools in favor of others while the northern 1/2 is paying for it and 90% opposed to it.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The above plan sounds an aweful lot like Tower School District in the 1980's. You know the one that came crawling the St. Louis County Schools after failing to pass operating levies MULTIPLE times to keep their LOCAL school open.

Now we should try it again and with even less students than before.

What a joke!

Thursday, December 30, 2010