School board denies drafting resolution allowing for annexation petitions out of GMR
Marshall County landowners filing petitions to detach out of the Greenbush-Middle River (GMR) School District and annex into the Marshall County Central (MCC) School District need the approval of both these school districts and that of the Marshall County Board of Commissioners to move forward. At the March 18 board meeting, the GMR Board, by a 4-2 vote, did not grant its approval to draft a resolution to allow the annexation of these petitioners. Many in attendance walked out of the GMR cafeteria following this decision.
Fritz Knaak, a lawyer representing this group of petitioners, said that since the board’s last meeting on February 19– when it heard of approximately 306 petitions for annexation– he had received an additional 70 petitions and anticipated another 20 to 25 more coming in, for a total of about 400 petitions strictly in the Marshall County area.
“Overall, we believe that this is very much in the best collective interest for the students in that (Marshall County) area, for the students generally, and so we’re asking that you agree with this,” Knaak said during his board presentation. “Now, I don’t have a specific resolution in front of you because, as I said, we’re still collecting names. That sounds awful, but I mean there’s still people that have expressed interest in participating in this.”
During his board presentation, Knaak explained how this list of petitioners covers a “large contiguous area” within Marshall County. He added how there are some open spots, representing parcels where individuals expressed interest, but didn’t follow up. He considered this detachment and annexation “unique” several times, unlike anything he had seen during his practice time and maybe within the past 60 years.
“The scope of this is what makes this so very different and, I think, it is that collective scope that is what generates, I think, the argument that it is in the best interest of the individuals involved,” Knaak said.
Superintendent Tom Jerome discussed the financial impact of this process, giving some approximate numbers provided to him by a Minnesota Department of Education representative.
According to these approximate numbers, if GMR annexed out all of its Marshall County property, it would forfeit $109,826.93 in levy or tax dollars. If GMR annexed out all of this property, plus lost all of its Marshall County students currently attending school within the district, it would lose $178,468.36 in aid and pupil revenue. The district’s potential approximate total financial impact– adding in both levy or tax, and aid losses– of losing all the Marshall County land and all its current Marshall County students totals: $288,295.29.
As for the district’s current and past finances, Jerome said this year’s revenue projections show an approximate loss of $111,197. Last year, still owning the Middle River building at that time, the district was projecting a $518,221 deficit, Jerome said.
Asked about potential savings of allowing for this annexation, Jerome mentioned transportation cost reductions and, likely, down the road, staff reductions.
The Marshall County Board of Commissioners will hold a public hearing in regards to these annexation requests on April 9 at 6 pm in Warren. Knaak said the county can choose to approve or not approve these petitions at this time. But, as he mentioned, if it does approve them, it would be conditioned on both the approval of both schools involved. Knaak believed that the Marshall County Board of Commissioners would approve these petitions on its end, and, although no one had stated so, MCC as well.
Some students within the GMR District have gravitated towards the MCC District already and the state aid is following them, Knaak said– a trend he sees continuing. According to the March 18, 2019 board meeting agenda, the GMR enrollment sits at 284. In March 2018, the GMR enrollment sat at 318, and in March 2017, the enrollment sat at 362.
Board member Melby and Stromsodt asked Knaak what would happen if the GMR board voted “no” and Knaak said he would work with his clients– what he earlier described as an “an entity that represents these individuals collectively”— on future action. Knaak said he was directed not to say what that future action would be. At the February 19 board meeting, one of the petitioners, David Thompson, said– based on what he had heard from fellow petitioners– what would likely happen if the district didn’t approve these annexation petitions.
“They want to continue pursuing,” Thompson said at that time, “which would mean ultimately a lawsuit against the school district, take it to district court, and the district judge would decide the outcome.”
“We made this decision already. It’s just a matter of finishing the job,” board member Melby said. “We had two choices and we chose to divide the district. It’s that simple. The district is officially divided. We just got to do the rest of the paperwork.”
To see the complete board story, read the March 27 issue of The Tribune in print or online.