Next month, Park Rapids Area School District residents will consider a bond referendum that would invest $59.8 million in renovations and expansions to the high school and Century School. While much has been said on the upgrades to classroom spaces and infrastructure that would be made if the referendum passes, I would like to take a moment to discuss some of the unique educational opportunities that the proposed plan would provide.

One of the most significant impacts of this plan is that it would allow us to provide students with more effective grade configurations within our buildings. With the demolition of Frank White Education Center, early education would no longer be kept separate from other elementary-level grades. These students would be able to attend Century School, where they would remain through 6th grade.

This would eliminate unnecessary transitions from one learning environment to another during the earliest years of students’ education. It would also bring our youngest students under one roof, providing them with additional social and collaborative opportunities.

Additionally, grades 7-8 would transition from Century School to Park Rapids High School, which would receive a new wing to accommodate the additional students. This would provide immediate benefits for our seventh and eighth graders, who would receive earlier exposure to courses in our career and technical education (CTE) programs.

This includes being able to participate in our Panther Tracks program, where students can pursue classes in various career “tracks” – from business to agriculture to cosmetology. Just five years after the introduction of Panther Tracks, we have increased the number of different career training tracks more than 700 percent, from three to twenty-two.

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CTE is especially important given that in 2020, nearly half of Park Rapids graduates began working or pursuing a community or technical college degree immediately following graduation. Early exposure to career and technical education would give them more time to consider their career interests, and better prepare them for their next steps.

To be sure, the referendum would be a significant community investment, so it is important that all residents have an opportunity to learn more about the costs and impacts of the plan.

If approved, a residential home in the district with a median value of $200,000 would see a tax increase of approximately $10 a month starting in 2022. To help residents calculate how the referendum would impact their individual home or business, the district has provided an easy-to-use tax calculator at Project309.org/cost.

As you review the conceptual designs that we are sharing, please remember that they are preliminary, not final. The design process cannot begin in earnest unless the referendum is approved.

If the referendum does pass, parents, staff, and community members alike will be invited to take an active role in the planning process for the additions and renovations to our schools. And remember: Early voting is now open in person at the district office or by absentee ballot. Visit PRoject309.org for more information on how to make your voice heard.

As always, I am happy to respond to your questions or comments. You can reach me at lbagstad@parkrapids.k12.mn.us or 218-237-6501. Go Panthers!