School board disagrees on Middle River building stipulation issue, passes motion

The Greenbush-Middle River School Board Buildings and Grounds Committee and GMR Superintendent Tom Jerome met with the Middle River City Council prior to the board’s August 20 meeting to discuss selling the Middle River building to the city. Superintendent Jerome initially suggested possibly attaching a stipulation to the sale and the City of Middle River didn’t want any stipulations. 
The GMR School Board discussed this issue further at its August 20 meeting, encountering disagreements. Eventually, the board voted in favor– by a 5-2 vote– to give the City of Middle River until September 17 to decide to purchase the building with the stipulation that it not be used for Pre-K to twelfth grade school. If the city decides to not purchase the building by this date with this stipulation, the district would then put the building out on bids. 
Board members Joe Melby and Laurie Stromsodt voted against the motion. Before passing the motion, board members Melby and Jeff Nelson debated their differences on it. 
To support his stance, Nelson made an analogy between the district’s situation to that of a business to explain how this decision is good business practice. 
“If you owned a store, a hardware store on one side of the street and you owned a building on the other side of the street and you sold the other… building on the other side of the street, there’s going to be a no competition clause in there.”
Melby said this wasn’t the same and Nelson said it was. 
“Those people are still going to come there for business,” Melby said. “… These kids aren’t coming. The enrollment numbers are coming. We’re going to see they left. There is no competition. They’re not here anyway. It’s not going to make any difference.”
Board Chairperson Shane Kilen and Nelson both then asked Melby what the big deal was if a stipulation is not going to make a difference. Melby then asked the same question.
“Let it go,” Melby said. “Why make it complicated? Keep it simple.”
Kilen said this isn’t complicated, and Melby said it’s much easier just to have no stipulations.
Speaking of enrollment, the district, as of the August 20 meeting, had an anticipated enrollment of 269– down from 288, the projected enrollment provided in June 2018. 
As review, the idea to sell the building to the City of Middle River arose after Middle River Mayor Mark Stromsodt expressed interest– on behalf of the city– in purchasing the building from the district for one dollar at the board’s May 21 meeting.
As for the stipulation, Superintendent Jerome initially mentioned the following possible stipulation, a non-compete clause to the Middle City Council: If the district was to sell this school property it can’t be used for another school for 10 years. As the GMR Superintendent, one representing the district, he explained how this non-compete clause may not benefit the City of Middle River.
“But (it) would make sense for our district as a whole in my opinion,” Jerome said.   
He added how the school board ultimately had the final say.
Board member Laurie Stromsodt respected where Jerome was coming from, but believed the district should not place any clauses, or stipulations, on the sale. Explaining her stance, she said she had been examining a birth to five education system, adding how there are grants available for such education. 
“We could use it (the building) as daycare, but it has to be considered educational,” Stromsodt said.
She added how she had called around to discover schools that didn’t have any stipulations on building sales, including Warren, Oslo, Ada, Kennedy, and Williams.
Board member Nelson mentioned how the Roseau School District gave the Township of Malung the Malung school building with stipulations, one being that it not use the building as a charter school.      
Board member Stromsodt responded, “I feel that we shouldn’t have no stipulations because there’s other things that Middle River can also use that school for.” 
Kilen then reacted to Stromsodt, stating, “What I’m hearing is, is you’re a member of this school district’s school board. So explain to me why a stipulation like that would not benefit our school district?”
Stromsodt said, “Because we already lost our kids,” Stromsodt said. “(Board member) Kurt (Stenberg) said none of the kids from Greenbush is going to go there when we had it open in Middle River. So, with that being said, you think people are going to come back to Middle River School?”
To see the full board story, read the August 28 issue of The Tribune in print or online.

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