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TIM LUTZ COLUMN: We did what we set out to do

We did it! As a school district, we made it through the school year while keeping most of our students in school and, at the same time, keeping students and staff healthy and safe.

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We did it! As a school district, we made it through the school year while keeping most of our students in school and, at the same time, keeping students and staff healthy and safe.

I am very grateful for the hard work and dedication of all of the staff members in each department within Bemidji Area Schools for working together in a committed and tireless fashion to make sure our year was safe and successful.

I am also extremely grateful for the continuous support and guidance from Sanford Health and Beltrami County health professionals throughout the year. I do not know where we would have been without their help.

I would also like to thank the community of parents, students and families for helping us keep students in school safely. It made my day at the end of the last day of school when a parent sent me a text with a photo of her three elementary children. The message said, “Thank you! You kept my babies safe and sound through this crazy hard year!”

Those words, coupled with a picture of three smiling children meant a lot to me after the most challenging year I have ever known as a school administrator. It reminded me that we did what we set out to do: we kept students in school and we kept everyone healthy. Now, it’s time to look towards the next school year and to make sure we are ready for whatever new challenges come our way. I sincerely hope that we will have a “normal” year next year with no pandemic issues.

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But, NOW, the real work begins. We survived the crisis of the pandemic, but unlike typical years, the summer is no time to rest. School districts across the state need to begin considering broader strategies for safely starting the next school year and for utilizing the federal funding we are receiving through the American Rescue Plan.

Similar to the work done last summer, Bemidji Area Schools will need to develop plans for starting school safely with all students back in school. If last summer is any indication, we will receive lots of guidance and many directives again this summer, and much of that information will arrive with only a few weeks of summer left. That means we may be modifying and adjusting our plans and communicating them several times over the summer. We will try to be as clear and concise as possible when these guidelines come to us.

In addition, the district’s budgetary struggles will continue to plague us for the foreseeable future. Because the operating referendum failed last year, we were forced to make historic levels of cuts to programs and staffing in order to balance the district budget.

Over the next couple of months, the district and school board will be evaluating the results of the community survey we sent out about district budget choices and a potential operating referendum. Based on the results of that survey, the board will determine whether or not to launch another referendum campaign this year.

While the ARP funding will allow us to fill some gaps in our budget deficit and will buy the district some time, these funds are one-time dollars and come with many restrictions regarding how they may be used. One of the most pressing goals of ARP funding is closing the learning gaps caused by the pandemic.

Those are lofty goals, and we will need to be very focused and intentional about our strategies for helping students recover from pandemic learning losses. We will also be held accountable for reporting how we spent these funds, so we will need to be thorough, goal-oriented and transparent every step of the way.

While the pandemic may be winding down, the work of Bemidji Area Schools is not slowing over the summer. We will spend the summer months working diligently to make sure the district budget is stabilized and the 2021-2022 school year starts strong with a safe and healthy environment where students will succeed and thrive.

That is our mission: to empower each learner to succeed in our diverse and changing world.

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

Bemidji Area Schools Superintendent Tim Lutz
Bemidji Area Schools Superintendent Tim Lutz. (Pioneer file photo)

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