As we embark upon the upcoming holiday season where we focus on gratitude and giving, I am continuously thankful for how our community supports Bemidji Area Schools. While the referendum did not pass, leaving us with some very tough budget decisions, an amazing and generous grassroots giving campaign has sprung up in Bemidji where people are giving donations amounting to what their new taxes would have been had the referendum passed.

I cannot thank our community enough for the outpouring of support, inspiring messages, and monetary donations and pledges that we have received so far. We greatly appreciate the generosity of those who value the importance of education and have chosen to mail contributions ranging from $45 to $500!

These gifts mean more than ever during this challenging time of the pandemic when our costs have far exceeded all expectations due to the need for cleaning supplies, PPE, and technology that will support students in distance learning.

Our deficit projections from last year have more than doubled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which means we will be faced with more cuts than we had expected going into this school year unless we can find additional funding from somewhere.

While we are still facing unprecedented budget cuts due to financial hardships, we will do our best to do all we can to provide the best education and nurturing environment for all students. Now, during the COVID-19 pandemic the work of dedicated, caring educators is more important than ever. ISD 31 teachers and other staff members are working between 25 and 50 percent harder and longer each day due to the pandemic, and I am very grateful for each and every dedicated staff member in the school district.

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As we enter the holiday season, I hope you and your family remain safe and healthy. Please continue to practice the guidelines issued by the CDC and MDH. Please wear masks around others, practice social distancing as necessary, wash your hands often, and stay home if you do not feel well.

My hope is that we can soon return to normalcy in our schools. We all need to work together toward the common goal of getting our COVID numbers down and keeping our schools open.

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