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DL student population is growing, school buildings need to keep up

Paula Quam/DL Newspapers

Late last month, the Detroit Lakes School Board met in a work session to begin answering the question that many in our community are asking and that is, "what's the next step?"

Of course, that question is pointed directly at what the school district is going to do (next) to resolve the space issues in (all of) our buildings. The work session did give the school board an opportunity to reflect on where the district has been over the past three years in its attempts to again, resolve its space issues.

One of the things the board discussed during this time was to perhaps give the community a "look back" if you will at what we as a community have experienced where our schools are concerned up to this point. So that is the purpose of this column.

There are two main issues associated with the building questions the district has taken to the voters over the past few years. First, the needs of our students from a curricular and social standpoint are very different today than when the buildings in the district were constructed.

Our kids need facilities that are specifically designed with safety in mind. Our kids need buildings that support the ever-changing curricular experience, especially where technology is concerned. Our staff needs more space to carry out their passion where educating our kids are concerned. Finally, the school you and I attended is significantly different. Because it's different, space used to carry out the task of educating our youth needs to be different as well.

The second issue is the continued moderate growth of student enrollment in the Detroit Lakes Schools.

When the school board met last month, the thought was that it might be important to review the enrollment history of the district, since it started the attempts to resolve the space issue.

In 2011, the district commissioned a study of our enrollment to determine if, in fact, we would continue to see growth as we had experienced in the previous four years. We were starting to experience pressure where space needs were concerned at that time.

Consequently, Dr. Chuck Cheney (former West Fargo Superintendent) and Dr. Rollie Morud (former Bemidji Superintendent) were asked to conduct an analysis of our district where future enrollments were concerned, and also provide us with recommendations for solving space needs.

They presented their findings to the School Board in the Spring of 2012, and at that time, gave the district a forecast of where we might be from an enrollment perspective looking out to the 2015-2016 school year.

Back in 2012, we thought those estimates might be a bit aggressive. Now that those 2015-2016 enrollment statistics are final, it was interesting to note how accurate the findings were from the Cheney-Morud report.

With the district's final 2015-2016 enrollment of 2,983, the forecasted report from 2012 was only one half of one percent off from what actually happened.

The point here is that growth for the 2015-2016 school year was forecasted back in 2012 and it happened. The Cheney/Morud report told us that we were to expect moderate growth over the ensuing years and as you know, it has happened.

Again in the Spring of 2016, the district felt the need to revisit the enrollment growth and enlist the work of Hazel Rinehart, the first state demographer for the State of Minnesota. She presented a report indicating that the district's growth would continue over the next 10 years out to 2026 and that the district would see an enrollment of 3,200 by that time. With that said and based upon her findings, we can expect to see over 200 more students occupying our buildings over the next few years.

This information is the reason the school board continues to work on the space issue.

Space is needed for our students. Space is needed for safety reasons. Space is needed for an updated curriculum. Space is needed for our staff to do their jobs effectively. Please help the district in its quest to find the solution to this issue. The School District would welcome your attendance at a community meeting set for April 4 at 7:30 p.m. in the Middle School Auditorium. We'd like your feedback with how this situation can be best resolved.