Outdoor facility: Want or need? [UPDATED]Published 5:46am Monday, February 25, 2013 Updated 7:48am Monday, February 25, 2013
The Rolling Stones once said, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you get what you need.”
When it comes to the Fergus Falls School District’s upcoming outdoor facilities referendum, there seems to be a debate about want and need.
School Board members are asking district residents to spend $5.475 million to update the football stadium and expand the track to eight lanes, create irrigated green space that will contain a variety of practice fields, add parking spaces for the new outdoor facilities, and create an environmental science area.
I’m sure there are many in Fergus Falls who would look at this list and say, “Why do students need such things to get an education?”
To those who think that, you are correct. They don’t.
Arguments that the improvements are necessary to ensure students are safe doesn’t necessarily hold water, either. The district could address safety concerns with its existing maintenance budget.
But to residents considering voting no based on those terms, you’re not thinking about it the right way.
My recent attendance at a school board meeting crystallized the idea that the school district is a business, and it is scratching and clawing to get students to attend public school in Fergus Falls and go not elsewhere.
Open enrollment, the increase of private school options, and the home-schooling trend have meant that, if you have children and live in the Fergus Falls School District, it is anything but automatic that your children would attend public school.
Let’s also remember that Fergus Falls is not necessarily a place where people automatically think they want to move to. Don’t get me wrong. I love living here. But compared to, say, the Twin Cities, Chicago, or Miami Beach, for that matter, Fergus Falls isn’t exactly a place a young professional would “target” to live in. As someone who has hired many employees over the years, I spend as much time selling prospective employees – which includes driving them around Fergus Falls to see the sights – as I do finding out if they can do the job.
Every child who attends a neighboring school, a private school, gets home schooled, or whose parents pull up stakes and moves to a different community, costs the district about $5,000 a year in state revenue. Over 13 years, that’s $65,000 – more than enough to cover a teacher’s salary and benefits. For parents who move away, the economic cost to the community is far greater.
Fergus Falls School Board members have come to realize this. It is the reason that on Monday, they will likely waive the monthly fee for children to attend all-day kindergarten. If waiving the fee means even a few parents decide to send their children to Fergus Falls public schools rather than elsewhere, it will be worth the revenue the district will forego.
Those running a business have to make updates to facilities to compete for customers. It’s why all three of the local new car dealers have recently expanded and remodeled their showrooms and repair shops. It’s why Walmart expanded to a superstore. It’s why many churches have completed additions and renovations. The owners of those businesses and institutions realize that, if they don’t, customers ultimately will buy their cars, purchase their toiletries, or attend church elsewhere.
In essence, we as property owners are stakeholders in the business known as the Fergus Falls School District. And right now, our business needs an investment in order to retain and recruit students.
It’s a relatively small investment. Property taxes will still decrease if the referendum is passed. If adding an impressive array of outdoor facilities to an essentially new secondary school and community arena keeps even a few students in public school that would have gone elsewhere otherwise, it’s an investment worth making.
For that reason, the outdoor facilities are something we need.
Progress edition to be released Thursday
Be sure to check out our Progress edition on Thursday. Simply put, it’s our best edition of the year. This year’s edition includes “snapshots” on the main drivers of the local economy – agriculture, manufacturing, government, health care, and education to name a few. It also includes local heroes – people who do great work in our communities and usually get little recognition for it. It also includes some fun things as well.
By the way, be sure to thank your carrier on Thursday, because it’s also one of the most difficult days for them as well.
Joel Myhre is The Journal’s publisher. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org