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GMR Board closes Middle River building

Middle River School site

After combining the Greenbush and Middle River Districts into one district and housing students at both of its sites for just over 25 years, the Greenbush-Middle River School District will now house all if its students in one building beginning the next school term.
At a May 7 public hearing in Middle River, the GMR Board approved, by a 5-2 vote, to close the Middle River building. Board members Kurt Stenberg, Brandon Kuznia, Jeff Nelson, Shane Kilen, and Carrie Jo Howard approved the motion, and board members Joe Melby and Laurie Stromsodt voted against the motion.
The board cited declining enrollment, 0-5 census data that doesn’t project increased enrollment, a projected budget deficit, and the “need to restructure the educational services” that the district provides as reasons behind the decision.
In 1992, the district had a total enrollment of 608 students. Since then, the enrollment has steadily declined. In 2002, the district had 465 students enrolled and in 2011 the district had 403 enrolled. The enrollment increased and peaked in 2012 to 436, but since then has declined. At the beginning of this school term, the district had 325 students and as of April 12, 2018, had 318 students enrolled, equal to just under a 47% decrease in enrollment from 2002.
Board member Carrie Jo Howard mentioned this enrollment decline, adding how people don’t talk about the single digit classrooms the district has. According to latest enrollment numbers, the district has four single digit class sizes. She added how the board has a responsibility to all taxpayers.
Based on the 0-5 census numbers in Roseau, Marshall, and Kittson counties, the enrollment will continue to decrease. By the 2022-23 school year, the district’s enrollment is projected to be 279, based on these census numbers. GMR district resident Michelle Kern addressed this issue when she mentioned how people just are not having as many children anymore.
As for the deficit, the district is facing a projected deficit of $518,221. According to earlier reports in The Tribune, the school auditor Eide Bailly reported that the school would be in statutory debt in three to four years.
Board member Joe Melby later said that the district will have a net savings of $140,000, due to losing students, by closing this building. As reported in the Tribune, a lawyer representing parents of 102 students said these students would be leaving if the district closes the Middle River building, adding how some already have.
Melby later explained how it is better for the district to have a building also in Middle River, giving it the ability to draw from its southern end. It doesn’t make sense, he said, for the district to close the Middle River building when students living in the southern part of the district can go to a school that is closer.
He then asked the board how it is proposing to pass referendums with a guarantee of “no” votes if the district goes through with closing the Middle River building.
Board member Kurt Stenberg said the district is getting “no” votes right now.  Since November 2015, the district has voted down two increased operating levies, a capital project levy, and the building of a new school in Greenbush.
Later, right before the board voted to close the Middle River building, board member Melby again explained how the district wouldn’t experience any savings by closing a building, adding how it will lead to a drastic enrollment decline. Stenberg said the district is going to lose students no matter what it does– from either the closure of a building or the projected enrollment decline.
To see the complete board story, read the May 9 issue of The Tribune in print or online. 

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