There are few moments more exciting for children and families than the start of the school year. We are nearly two weeks into our new year, and students throughout Bemidji Area Schools are settling in well and are very happy to be back in school with their classmates and friends.

While it is sad that students, families and teachers must continue to deal with the realities of COVID, I am thrilled that we are able to start school with the in-person model where all students are able to sit at their own desks in their classrooms and see their teachers and friends in the flesh.

We are already showing that we are able to keep students in school this year because of the layers of mitigation we have put in place to keep students and employees healthy. Last year, our layered strategies to keep students and staff healthy worked very well. This year, those same strategies are continuing to work.

While we are seeing increases in our COVID numbers in Beltrami County, we are finding that we can keep students in their classrooms, which is where students want to be and where parents want their children to learn.

When I think about my years as a student in the public school system, I am struck by the many ways education has changed. Schools are so different now when compared to my years in school. First and foremost, we never had to struggle with the anxieties of a pandemic. Life seemed simpler and more carefree back in the day when I was a student.

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Another major difference is the cost of public education, which was much less expensive in my day than it is now. My father was a school principal and my mother was a teacher, so I heard many conversations and discussions about educational issues and concerns while growing up.

Yet, I cannot remember a single time when I heard about budget shortages or major cuts to programs and staff such as what is being discussed today. Thirty and 40 years ago, schools had simpler budgets with fewer responsibilities and expensive mandates. Simply stated, schools had more flexibility and freedom regarding how to spend the funds they received from the state.

Today’s public schools have been struggling for the past two decades as support from the state of Minnesota has been diminishing and not keeping pace with inflationary pressures. This is why over 40 Minnesota school districts are seeking a referendum this year.

When funding from the state is not enough to keep up with the costs of running a school district, the only viable option is to seek support from the community through an operating referendum. That is why Bemidji Area Schools is once again seeking to pass an operating referendum this fall.

We have a strong school system that enjoys the support of our community. This support is crucial to our success as a school district. But, the relationship is reciprocal: a strong school district supports a strong community. Students represent only 25% of our population, but they represent 100% of our future. Our youth are the future of our community.

If the district’s operating referendum passes this fall, the district will meet a number of goals that our students need and deserve.

We will sustain the many kinds of student support programs that are necessary such as Special Education, Title One, reading interventions and others. However, it also means we will be able to keep advanced programs for many students who want them.

We will be able to maintain many meaningful programs and activities that students enjoy such as show choir, robotics, STEM programming, the musical and much more.

Finally, we will be able to invest in our future through our children.

Unfortunately, if the referendum is not successful, the district will be faced with more cuts to programs and staff this spring. Through a successful operating referendum on Nov. 2, we will be able to sustain, maintain, and invest in a strong school system leading to a strong future for our community. Please remember to vote on Nov. 2.

Tim Lutz is superintendent of Bemidji Area Schools. He can be reached via email at tim_lutz@isd31.net.