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School told 'Don't cut -- sell!'

Blackduck teacher Rick Olhava shares his ideas on how the district can use marketing to promote the excellent school the Blackduck community offers.

Less than a week after being told to come up with additional cuts in next year's Blackduck school budget, superintendent Robert Doetsch was given change orders at a special meeting.

Some two dozen people, most of them teachers or school staff, greeted the board at the Saturday meeting. As the nearly two-hour meeting concluded, the result was a complete turnabout in direction.

Doetsch began by giving the board members an outline of ways to achieve the $120,000 figure he'd been given as a goal toward a balanced budget. They ranged from eliminating one bus route, dropping Spanish instruction, cutting an English teacher position and reducing the janitorial staff to other possible cuts.

Board chairman Dale Compton turned to the audience and asked if there were any comments.

There were.

Blackduck teacher Rick Olhava challenged the whole concept of accepting budget reductions with a suggestion that instead, what Blackduck needs is a marketing campaign.

"We offer a superior school, he said and we need to let people know, he said. "We need to sell what we've got, we need to have a plan on how to accomplish some growth." He decried particularly the loss of students to overcrowded Bemidji schools.

Olhava drew spirited applause that opened an extended discussion in which even board members joined, with member Grant Mistic urging to "let's keep this rolling."

Among conclusions reached:

* April 7 at 6:30 p.m., an open meeting to invite public comment and seek suggestions for a marketing campaign.

* an open house will be scheduled for this spring to let prospective students know opportunities they might enjoy by attending Blackduck schools.

* bus routes will be reviewed and altered where needed to make it more convenient for students from adjacent areas to attend in Blackduck.

This latter represents a policy reversal. Under open enrollment students are allowed to choose their school but Blackduck has refrained from "poaching'" with some loss in student numbers as a result. The board agreed that henceforth, Blackduck should show the advantages for students to attend here and invite them to share the experience.

As Compton adjourned the meeting, no one asked about the proposed budget reductions which were the original reason for its having been called.