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Pioneer Editorial: Cheers & Jeers

Overcrowding challenges educators

As Minnesota students headed back to classrooms last week, it came as no surprise that the Bemidji School District’s elementary facilities are bursting at the seams.

Last fall, school officials made a pitch to district patrons to give the district additional funds to alleviate overcrowding – especially in the younger classes.

Voters soundly rejected the measure in November as 67 percent of those going to the polls said no to a new bond issue.

The district has now reshuffled boundaries to alleviate some of the crunch.

There were 109 more students last Tuesday – for a total of 2,470 – on the first day of school compared to 2011. Superintendent Jim Hess said elementary schools are at capacity.

Projected trends show the problem growing increasingly worse. District officials, charged with addressing the issue, will be tested in the coming years.

The problem appears worst for fifth-graders: there are 31 students in Solway’s fifth grade, Lincoln has classes with 32 and 33 students, J.W. Smith has 28 students in its classes and Northern Elementary has 28-30 kids per class.

Educators argue class sizes should be kept down in elementary grades so children receive more individual attention and a better learning environment.

Student populations in grades below fifth grade most likely won’t make Bemidji officials’ jobs any easier. In 2011, the district reopened Paul Bunyan Elementary to free up classroom space elsewhere in the district.

Paul Bunyan Elementary hosts four kindergarten sections from Northern and two from Solway, along with the district’s pre-kindergarten program, K-1.

The ebbs and flows of student populations provide significant challenges for officials, teachers and students.

So far, the school district has done an admirable job juggling tasks with function and space. As the school year wears on, everyone’s patience, problem-solving and creativity will be tested.

Saga continues

Tonight officials from the city of Bemidji and Northern Township will host a joint meeting to discuss the long-standing dispute about Birchmont Drive assessments for sewer and water work.

The issue, already the subject of two legal challenges, doesn’t appear anywhere near resolution.

Last month, Birchmont Drive residents received notices for about $1.4 million in proposed assessments for work completed in 2008. Many of those residents plan to object at tonight’s meeting – leaving open the door for another legal challenge.

Some residents claim there is no explanation for the assessment figures, and some claim the work did little to nothing to benefit them.

For everyone’s benefit – residents and the government entities – a reasonable and fair resolution is needed. Our hope is that resolution is set into motion tonight.