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Commentary: Enrollment growing in B-E schools

By Don Peschel, superintendent, Brandon-Evansville School District

Happy New Year! As I reflect on the previous year and look forward to 2019, there are many things the school board and I are hoping to accomplish. One of the most important is to find a plan to address our facilities that is supported by students, staff and community members.

My previous column mentioned that the school board was set to review assessments about demographics and educational adequacy on Dec. 17. Here are a few key takeaways.

As part of the growing west central region of the state, our enrollment is growing and that's a great thing! In fact, the number of students attending our two schools has grown by nearly 12 percent over the last decade. Both resident and non-resident enrollment has increased. More importantly, this trend is expected to continue in coming years with projections saying enrollment growth will reach 17 percent in the next decade.

This is certainly good news. Too many Minnesota school districts are struggling with declining enrollment. Additional students mean new opportunities and new state funding for classroom education.

However, we are still educating these students in aging, substandard buildings. According to an expert assessment of our two school buildings, we are not meeting the Minnesota Department of Education guidelines in 17 of the 18 educational categories, with substandard marks in at least one building in 14 of those categories. More information can be found at www.BeChargersUnited.com, in the Educational Adequacy Report under the Resources tab.

Our buildings are quite old, and significant investments have not been made in more than 40 years. After a while, maintenance is not enough — we need to make the investments that will provide our students with classrooms that are safe and educate our students for their life beyond our walls, whether that's going straight into the workforce or on to higher education.

The challenge here, of course, is finding the right plan that checks all the boxes. It must address both the educational inadequacies and the communities' priorities. It must be both the right physical solution as well as respect that local taxpayers will foot the bill. The previous plan to build one facility for both communities was voted down. Now, the school board will continue to review options for a new plan and weigh the potential financial impact.

As the district moves forward in this process, I'll continue to keep you informed through these written updates. As always, community feedback is critical in this process. I would love to hear from you. I welcome all comments, questions and feedback on this process as the district narrows towards the right plan for our district. Questions and comments can be submitted on the district's dedicated website: www.BeChargersUnited.com.