Guest Commentary: Get the facts straight about Wrenshall referendum

I'd like to give my opinion and hopefully clear up some of the distorted information being shared related to the Wrenshall referendum. The first item is that the school is overcrowded because of open enrollment. The school is overcrowded because ...

I'd like to give my opinion and hopefully clear up some of the distorted information being shared related to the Wrenshall referendum.

The first item is that the school is overcrowded because of open enrollment. The school is overcrowded because a large portion of it was built in the 1960s. Since then things have certainly changed, but the classrooms at Wrenshall haven't all that much. For example, there is only one functional science room with lab tables and room for experiments that was added in a renovation over 20 years ago. The other designated science room is a regular classroom that's not only too congested but not practical as a science classroom. Due to the nature of space, high school students have classes across the hall from elementary students. Part of the repurposing of the existing building is to designate areas into age-appropriate learning spaces, which would separate the high school and elementary. Currently there isn't any space to do that.

As the elementary numbers improve even without a building project, these classrooms will need to be transitioned back to the elementary. We are a K-12 school with one decent gymnasium used by phy-ed classes, athletic teams and latchkey when available. Currently students are being forced to utilize a rundown pole building with basketball hoops and cement floor. How do our young athletes stay competitive when there isn't enough gym space to provide them time to develop their skills? This puts our athletes at a significant disadvantage.

Overall, it's an outdated building issue not an open enrollment issue. Open enrollment has been successfully implemented in Wrenshall. When a student open enrolls to a district, the state funds that student at the same amount as a district student. For a small district like Wrenshall that brings in a lot of revenue that wouldn't be possible without a much larger operating levy. However, the school is still not at a healthy number of students yet. The elementary is positively growing in number which is an indication that stability and growth are on the horizon. To consider closing open enrollment now is shortsighted, and is asking for a higher operating levy vote, or cutting programming in the future.

The second item I'd like to address is the utility tax litigation between the state and the utility providers. If someone tells you that your taxes are going to skyrocket because of this litigation, they are speculating, because the public - including myself - has no specific details. The commissioner has explained that currently all information is classified and there are no specific dates, facts, or conclusions on what the impact will be to the tax base. It could take years before this takes effect. If the state steps in, it could also be a very minimal amount to the bottom line. Something that isn't speculation but factual is that interest rates on a building bond are currently very low, and that construction costs will always go up. The school district can take advantage of these rates by starting a building project this spring before they start to rise again as predicted.


Finally, I want to address the false idea that this project was developed without adequately informing the public. The idea for the building project came from the public in a meeting held in May 2016. It was a post-consolidation meeting where the board took input from the community on what things were important for our district moving forward. The public message that was conveyed included keeping our school viable and independent, improving our infrastructure, developing courses that concentrate on technology and college bound options. The board has intentionally put those ideas into this referendum project. As the project was in development, public invitations for informational meetings were posted in "Images" (school newspaper mailed to every household in the district), on the school website, and the Grow Wrens' support group Facebook page and website. School board meetings are held monthly, and Grow Wrens held bi-monthly meetings. These meetings are open to the public, and the choice not to attend these meetings and ignoring the invitations doesn't mean they weren't available to you.

Consequently, it comes down to obtaining reliable information, not rumors or opinions from others. Are you going to trust your invested board members who live in the district and have served on the board for years? Do you trust board members who have spent countless hours studying student demographics, classes and electives, and the state of the facilities? On the other hand do you trust people who by their own admission had NO interest in what happens in the school up until two months ago? Do you trust people who still have shown no care or regard to the conditions in which we are forced to educate our children? Do you trust people who have not even seen those conditions yet feel free to offer up solutions that wouldn't really improve the issues anyway? Solutions that only look out for their own interests, so they can go back to ignoring the issues facing our kids. In this case I put my trust in the board and I will be voting "yes" for our children, and investing in our future.

Writer Kevin Olesen is on the Grow Wrens Wrenshall Referendum support committee and is a Wrenshall resident.

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