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David Ross: Supporting the School District

The Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce and its board of directors support Independent School District 709's Long Range Facilities Plan. We believe the plan effectively addresses the district's aging infrastructure; improves the educational adequacy ...

The Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce and its board of directors support Independent School District 709's Long Range Facilities Plan. We believe the plan effectively addresses the district's aging infrastructure; improves the educational adequacy of the district's buildings and addresses the district's declining enrollment and its current overcapacity. Moreover, the plan provides students and their parents the stability that comes from knowing what will occur within the district for years to come.

Duluth public schools have 28 percent too much space and are facing declining enrollment. The cost of owning and operating that space is concurrently increasing. Few businesses can justify or afford the cost of heating, maintaining and insuring that much excess space. Most

business owners would make tough decisions to rectify such a situation.

The school board is like most business owners -- it made the tough decisions needed in order to be an effective business. The results of these decisions are manifested in the district's Long Range Facilities Plan.

The plan takes Duluth from three high schools to two; four middle schools to two; and 11 elementaries to nine. It also rebuilds or refurbishes those remaining schools and brings them to modern standards.

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It is a bold initiative that will require a $257 million investment; residents will see a $125 million tax impact.

Yet, there is no time better than today to begin the work at hand. Interest rates are low; executing the project now means the district can lock in low-interest rates for 20 years. Construction costs are only going to get higher. Waiting, as we have unfortunately done for far too many years, only makes the projects more expensive.

Investing in our schools is a long overdue initiative. The average age of our school buildings is 54 years old. More than 60 percent of our school space doesn't meet code in areas including: air and water quality; handicap accessibility and the ability to support modern educational programs. Most of our schools were built when security wasn't such a seminal issue.

If the cost to bring an old school up to standards is more than 60 percent of the cost of a new school, state standards require school districts to build a new school in order to receive funds for construction. That is why the plan includes a combination of school renovation and the building of new schools.

The Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce's Board of Directors endorsed and advocated for the implementation of the Long Range Facilities Plan. Further, the Chamber and its leadership continue to have confidence in the effective implementation of the plan by the Duluth Public Schools Board and the Superintendent of Schools.

The Duluth Public Schools Board has been implementing the plan for the past year. Financing has been secured. Bonds have been sold. Construction plans have been completed. Supplies have been assembled. Properties have been purchased. Work is underway.

I hope we, as a community, can come to fully understand and respect how the decision to move forward with the plan is no longer open to debate. The decision was made a year ago. It has been acted upon. It is done.

Let us redirect our collective attention to supporting the School District as it endeavors to move our community forward.

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