Frustrated by 'no' vote, some area residents donate directly to Bemidji school district

Bemidji High School web art.jpg
Bemidji High School (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- When Adrienne Eickman learned the Bemidji Area Schools operating referendum had failed, she was disappointed, and wanted to do something about it.

“The day after the election . . . I was reading the news, and I was just thinking about how hard it is to be at school right now, which I know from personal experience,” said Eickman, who is the director of the Schoolcraft Learning Community school.

Voters said "no" to the Bemidji Area Schools operating referendum on Election Day, which would have levied a property tax increase to address the district’s budget deficit. Around 60% of voters refused the ballot measure, with the question receiving 11,725 “no” votes and 7,851 “yes” votes.

“I started thinking about, for those teachers especially, what can we do to show them that even though the referendum didn’t pass, 'We still support you, you’re doing such a good job',” she said. “It just occurred to me, there’s nothing that says I can’t still contribute, there’s no rule that says I can’t give my $45. So, that’s what I decided to do.”

She took to Facebook to voice her idea that she, and anyone else who wishes to, should contribute $45 (the average tax increase for Bemidji homeowners had the referendum passed) directly to the school district.


The response shocked her.

Comment after comment, other Bemidjians chimed in, “I’m in.” As of Monday afternoon, the post had been shared more than 140 times around the community.

“I did not expect it to kind of blow up the way that it has,” she said. “I’ve been really surprised about how many people have been sharing it and commenting on it and contacting me. I hope that it is turning out to be a nice thing for the district.”

Superintendent Tim Lutz said Friday he is grateful for the support, which he described as a “positive grassroots movement.” Lutz said while the district is not involved in this effort, he is appreciative and said the district would welcome donations, which would go into the general fund. The easiest way to get these donations is probably to mail or drop off a check made out to the district, he added.

“We’re very much appreciative of that movement,” he said. “We are looking at ways we can respond and set up a fund to accept those donations. I appreciate the support from people who are disappointed, like we are, in the fact that the referendum didn’t pass. We respect the community’s decision at this point in time, but we also want to honor and respect the sentiment of people who still do want to provide support.”

For the most part, the comments under Eickman’s post have been positive, she said.


“There have been some people that have posted why they didn’t vote for the referendum or why they think the referendum didn’t pass, but still it’s been overwhelmingly positive,” Eickman said of the response so far. “I think it’s totally fine, people voted for or against the referendum for all their own reasons, but to me, that’s kind of besides the point. It’s still about showing people that we support them and we want to be there for them.”

“This is a way, for those of us who can, to contribute and let the district know that we support them,” she added.

Despite her children not attending Bemidji Area Schools, Eickman still personally advocates on behalf of the district, because she feels stronger public schools will make for a stronger Bemidji.

“I’m an educator and I believe in schools and I believe in the power of schools. I live here, so even though my kids don’t go to Bemidji schools, they probably will when they are in high school, and I want everybody who goes to those schools to have the best and be the best because I live here,” she said. “If there’s a nurse here taking care of my kids, she probably went to Bemidji schools. If I am voting for a local candidate, they probably went to Bemidji schools. As a citizen, I want them to have the best and be the best so our community continues to be the best.”

Hannah Olson is a multimedia reporter for the Pioneer covering education, Indigenous-centric stories and features.
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