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Our view: Slow down, seek answers on 'W' schools

Herald editorial board

It's difficult to not sympathize with parents who worry schools will close in Grand Forks.

A group of northside parents visited with the Herald's editorial board Friday, outlining myriad concerns about rumblings they feel could result in the closure of the town's "W" schools: Winship, Wilder and West. These are deemed "neighborhood" schools and for good reason, since they have small enrollments and are within safe walking distance for children of the northside neighborhoods.

It started with an assessment and review conducted by the Facilities Committee of the Grand Forks School Board, which has prompted many questions.

Among them:

■ What is the driving need for change and why does it seem to be going so quickly?

■ Has the board considered the collateral consequences of closing schools in those neighborhoods?

■ What has changed since a similar study six years ago?

■ Is this a budget issue? And what kind of savings can be expected?

■ Why is it being discussed now, when Superintendent Larry Nybladh is nearing retirement.

■ Is this process about finding a solution without an actual problem?

■ And, shouldn't the board have discussed this more with the community?

These are good questions, and again, we sympathize with parents whose children could conceivably be educationally uprooted and sent to different schools. That's a big change.

At Monday's meeting of the School Board, at least a bit of this issue came into focus. Essentially, the board says it's still early and that this work is simply the process of creating a district master facility plan.

President Doug Carpenter told the parents the only things being discussed are scenarios and not recommendations. That's an important clarifying comment.

He also said the board will take no action for at least six months. Again, good information.

Carpenter further clarifies his position in a Viewpoint article published in today's Herald, in which he invites residents to attend a forum at 7 p.m. Jan. 22 at South Middle School. There, attendees will hear a presentation by consulting firm JLG and have an opportunity to ask questions and give feedback. Carpenter told the Herald other public meetings will be held as well.

Shutting down schools anywhere in Grand Forks will create an impassioned, emotional response. As of today, we're not in favor of such plans, at least not without strong fiscal reasons for doing it. But, again, it's still very early in the process—too early for alarm, in our view.

In retrospect, the board should have done more to let residents know exactly the background on this process, as well as a better idea of the timeline. More information in the early stages would help alleviate concerns of the parents. They have a right to be concerned, but that concern may be premature.

Parents must take a deep breath and seek answers to their questions before assuming the worst. Carpenter, for example, told us he has not received a single email or telephone call from constituents, asking for answers.

We urge residents to participate in forums, attend regular board meetings and politely call board members to personally get answers to the many questions that inevitably will—and should—arise.