Update for Late March
Eveleth-Gilbert and Virginia Public Schools:
May 12 Consolidation Vote Related Questions and Answers
Q: I want my vote to count. When can I start voting on this topic via an absentee ballot?
A: You can start voting on this important topic on March 27th with an absentee ballot. A notice, published elsewhere in the newspaper you are currently reading, contains all the necessary information on what to do.
Q: I am worried about the Coronavirus and I want to avoid crowds. How can I still vote?
A: There are few crowds when absentee voting. You may be more comfortable and avoid more people by filling out an absentee ballot in either district’s office. A notice, published elsewhere in the newspaper you are currently reading, contains all the necessary information on what to do.
Q: I am hearing a rumor that if the vote is “no” on the consolidation vote on May 12, all construction of the new Career Academy High School, the new Eveleth-Gilbert elementary school and the new elementary school in Virginia will stop? Is this true?
A: Absolutely not. The voters in both school districts have already approved the construction of the new high school and two new elementary buildings. All three buildings are being constructed no matter what happens with the vote on May 12.
Q: My neighbor doesn’t believe that taxpayers in the two school districts will save money in a consolidation. Who is right?
A: You are right. This is a fairly straight-forward question. Fundamentally, it is important to understand that if the consolidation vote fails in either district, there will be three, separate legal entities: Rock Ridge high school run by the joint powers board (7-12), Eveleth-Gilbert school district (preK-6) run by the Eveleth-Gilbert school district, and the Virginia school district (preK-6) run by the Virginia school district. There will be 3 school boards.
If there is no consolidation both school districts will continue to spend money on services which are duplicative. The school districts will incur higher costs in the areas of busing, running the business office, technology infrastructure and tech help. This will happen because instead of one school district, we will have three legal entities. [For example, we will need to keep three distinct, separate sets of financial reports, one for each legal entity. This will require the hiring of additional people in the business and finance office.] Overall, at a minimum, (in contrast to one consolidated district) we can expect additional expenses of $520,000 a year. Plus, for the first two years, the two districts will lose $450,000 in additional monies from the State of Minnesota. Together, it’s at least a million dollar swing one way or the other.
In addition, both districts will continue sending multiple buses into the other school district to pick up elementary students. This is not an efficient way of spending money. Currently there are approximately five buses, between the two school districts which cross boundary lines. We have calculated that each extra bus per year costs a minimum of $33,000 and can rise to about $70,000 per year, depending on the route and how many students the bus picks up. Each one of these buses have longer routes because they are picking up students in the other district. In a consolidated district, many of these bus runs will be unnecessary because the regular bus assigned to that specific area will pick up all students.
A very simple question the voters in both districts will need to answer is this: “Do we want to spend $520,000 minimum, every year on extra buses, accountants, and technology staff? Or would we rather be spending the $520,000 on hiring more teachers and providing students with more opportunities and resources to support their learning experience?”
Q: I am still hearing the rumor that the Virginia school board is going to do a “bait and switch” and end up building the high school in Britt. Is this true?
A: This is the rumor that will not die. There is no truth to this rumor. It’s not even legally possible. The Virginia School Board is cooperating with the Eveleth-Gilbert School Board in constructing a new Career Academy High School and two new elementary schools. Both school districts must legally cooperate together on this venture. And they are cooperating together.
Q: There is a rumor that the school boards are going to change their minds and take the vote away from the voters on May 12.
A: This is another rumor with no basis in truth. Both school boards are committed to having the community members decide, on May 12, whether or not the two school districts should consolidate.
Q: I know the public in both school districts is voting on the consolidation issue on May 12. But what about the school boards? What do the school boards think about the two school districts consolidating?
A: Both school boards, on Monday, March 9, unanimously passed resolutions in favor of consolidating the two school districts. There was not one dissenting vote on either school board. Both school boards feel strongly that consolidating the two districts is in the best interests of the students in both school districts.
Q: I heard a rumor that in a consolidation Eveleth-Gilbert is picking up Virginia’s debt? Is this true?
A: No. Eveleth-Gilbert is not picking up a penny of debt from Virginia.
Q: What, money-wise, is Eveleth-Gilbert picking up from Virginia in a consolidation?
A: Both the Eveleth-Gilbert and Virginia school boards have voted, after the consolidation is completed, to spread out the referendum levy dollars between the two school districts. Recently, in November of 2018, the voters in Virginia voted to renew and increase their referendum levy to keep up with inflation. This means that Virginia taxpayers voted to tax themselves to benefit the students attending Virginia Public Schools. When the Eveleth-Gilbert and Virginia school boards voted to spread out the referendum levy dollars between the two school districts after the consolidation was completed, it meant that those dollars, in addition to benefiting Virginia students, will also benefit Eveleth-Gilbert students. If there is no consolidation, all referendum levy monies stay in the respective district. This means the Virginia school board will have more money to benefit the Virginia students and the Eveleth-Gilbert
school board will have fewer dollars to benefit Eveleth-Gilbert students.
Q: But that means, in a consolidation, the taxpayer in Eveleth-Gilbert will see their school taxes rise and the taxpayers in Virginia will see their school taxes decrease. Is this true?
A: For that one portion of the referendum levy dollars, the answer is yes. However, it is important to look at the total tax picture. Before the May 2019 vote, the total school taxes on a $125,000 residential homesteaded house was estimated to be $379 in Eveleth-Gilbert and $506 in Virginia. Because of the districts receiving a lower interest rate based on their excellent dual credit rating, and including averaging the referendum levy between all taxpayers in both district, and including a drop in long term facilities and maintenance revenue for both districts, the estimated total school taxes on a $125,000 residential homesteaded house, in the year 2023, is estimated to be $375 in Eveleth-Gilbert and $351 in Virginia. In other words, for Eveleth-Gilbert taxpayers, the total school tax will be slightly lower than anticipated. For Virginia taxpayers, the total school tax will be lower than anticipated. In short, the only differential in taxes between residents of the two districts will come from their existing OPEB debt–which each individual district will take care of. Eveleth-Gilbert has about 4 years left and Virginia has about 15 years left to pay. Once those bonds are paid off, everyone in both districts will pay the same amount of school taxes, regardless of where they live.
Q: Why do the schools need so much time to plan for consolidation? Why don’t they wait to consolidate in 2023 when the new high school opens?
A: Both school districts have over 300 systems which need to merge together and run smoothly. We need to consider the students, the teachers, the support staff, the curriculum, the budget, athletics, music, the technology infrastructure, and busing, among others–not to mention getting the new buildings ready. Schools are complex organizations. Between the two school districts, the annual budgets run close to $40 million. Waiting until the last minute is not prudent planning. No business would wait until the last minute to begin merging systems, people, and protocols. Schools are no different. Consolidating during the same year that students are merging into the new high school would be quite difficult from an organizational planning point of view. We have time now to plan and slowly merge the systems together. Consolidating the school districts now will enable this process to run smoother and more efficiently.
Q: Did the taxpayers save money by cooperating together in May of 2019 by voting for the construction of new buildings?
A: Yes. The numbers are fairly easy to understand. For Eveleth-Gilbert taxpayers, the savings are substantial. If Eveleth-Gilbert had decided to fix up their older facilities on their own, without using Virginia’s better tax equalization formula and without partnering together with Virginia to receive additional IRRR funding, on $40 million worth of repairs and fix-up, it would have cost the Eveleth-Gilbert taxpayer, on a $125,000 residential homestead, $455 a year. If Virginia had decided to fix up their older facilities on their own, without partnering together with Eveleth-Gilbert to receive additional IRRR funding, on $40 million worth of repairs and fix-up, it would have cost the Virginia taxpayer, on a $125,000 residential homestead, $307 a year. As it turned out, because the two districts did cooperate together, taxpayers in both school districts (no matter whether they live in Eveleth-Gilbert or Virginia), on a $125,000 residential homestead, will pay $195 per year (rather than $455 or $307) on the 20 year building bonds. As a bonus, taxpayers of both districts are getting $178.5 million worth of new buildings, rather than $40 million in fix-ups and repairs for each separate district.
Q: What happens if consolidation occurs on July 1, 2020?
A: There will be one school district, Rock Ridge Public Schools. However, there will continue to be two high schools (just like there are now) until the new high school opens in the fall of 2023. There will be one administration group, including just one superintendent. All financial accountings will merge into one system. All staff will work for one school district–Rock Ridge School District. There will be (after negotiations to combine contracts), one teacher contract, one AFSCME contract, and one principal contract. All required reports to the State of Minnesota will merge into one reporting system. Over a two-year period, the two school districts will get an additional $450,000 in funding from the State of Minnesota. This money is only made available to school districts who are consolidating.
Q: What is the greatest benefit to the students if consolidation occurs on July 1, 2020?
A: In one consolidated preK-12 district, the teachers will be able to better communicate with one another in planning curriculum and programming. Transitions from the elementary school to the high school will be smoother because it will be a transition within the same school district. Students will not have different reading and math materials across the grades and buildings. There will be more consistency among classes and a greater likelihood of higher quality instruction because the teachers will be talking more frequently with one another. The end result will be that students will be direct beneficiaries of having one system for curricular, teaching, and programming, rather than three systems. If we don’t consolidate, the systems will remain separate. For planning purposes, teachers need to know whether they are part of separate systems or one which is woven together into one functioning system.
Q: What else happens if there is no consolidation?
A: The two school districts will lose $450,000 in funding from the State of Minnesota. The districts will be spending, at a minimum, an extra $520,000 a year. There will be three, separate teacher, AFSCME, and principal contracts for each district–for a total of nine contracts between the three districts. Coordinating curriculum will be significantly more difficult because there will be three separate school districts. Transitions from elementary to high school will become more disjointed because there will be three separate school districts. In addition, rather than consolidating bus routes, we will continue having the added costs of sending school buses across district lines to pick up elementary students.
Q: I have additional questions. How do I get answers?
A: The best and fastest way to get answers is to call/ email the Virginia superintendent Dr. Noel Schmidt, at 218-749-5437 extension firstname.lastname@example.org or call/email the Eveleth-Gilbert superintendent Jeff Carey at email@example.com. Information can also be found on both schools’ websites.
The purpose of this letter is to inform parents and students about the current plan for handling the upcoming school closures beginning Wednesday, March 18 through, and including, Friday, March 27. This school closure includes all Virginia school activities, including all after school activities. This action was directed from the State of Minnesota.
Key pieces of information for you to know:
Students should not come to school from March 18 through, and including, Friday, March 27. To the best of our current knowledge, school will resume on Monday, March 30th.
During this time, teachers will be preparing materials for distance learning via your child’s Schoology account. [Note: If you are not familiar with Schoology, be expecting information to be coming shortly from your child’s teacher or principal. This will be the case mostly if you have a child who is pre-K through grade 4. Schoology is an online distance learning platform or program.] Your child should, however, continue reading books during the time school is not in session.
Your child may be given paper and pencil assignments, especially if lack of access to Wi-Fi is going to be a problem. This may also happen in the lower elementary grades. Some of these materials may be picked up at a central location or delivered via school bus. Please watch for further details from your child’s teacher(s) or building principal.
All pre-K through students in grade 12 are required to be included in these plans.
Distance learning will begin on Monday, March 30 and/or students will return to school based on recommendations from the state or federal level
If you do not have Wi-Fi access in your house, to access Schoology (which is where the vast majority of your child’s homework will be distributed) and do not want to expose yourself to other individuals, you will be able to drive up and park between the south doors (#5 and #6) of the high school or between the north doors (#13 and #14) of Roosevelt elementary to get an internet connection. You will not need a password.
We will be making available, breakfast and lunch, for all students. Designated locations will be identified for you to pick up these meals. Even though there are two meals a day, there will be one lunch pick up each day. Some meals may be delivered via school bus. Please watch for further details on this topic. Give us some time to iron out the details. These lunches are optional for parents and their children.
The Virginia Public Schools will provide before-school, regular school, and after-school activities only for elementary students of emergency workers. The State of Minnesota is defining emergency workers/staff as: health care providers, post-acute and long-term care facilities, home care workers, personal care assistants, ambulance and emergency, direct care and treatment, first responders, firefighters, personnel providing correctional services, essential court personnel, Minnesota State Veterans Homes staff, State and local public health agency employees, MNsure Navigators, County financial/eligibility workers, County case managers, and county staff in emergency management or health and human services. To be eligible for these programs, parents will need to show their ID or produce a letter from their employer. This is a requirement from the State of Minnesota. Additional information on this topic will be forthcoming. Stay tuned.
All students receiving special education services and 504 plan services will continue to receive their services. Some IEPs and 504 plans may need to be slightly modified. Individual testing (when necessary) will continue or may be provided on-line.
As we roll into the coming days, please reduce all opportunities for your child or other adults to gather in large groups or make sure there is adequate distance, approximately six feet, separating all individuals.
As additional information is known, we will keep you informed. Expect the situation to be fluid and for things to change. We will get through this.
Please fill out this survey if you have childcare or breakfast/lunch needs. https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfCossPtZ1MBs7qO6QyoQzEdZ0jnmciuEIkkXVKr7ppVlfayg/viewform?vc=0&c=0&w=1
In addition, the Minnesota Department of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are closely monitoring the situation and regularly providing guidance on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). We are working closely with state and local agencies to stay up-to-date on the best ways to keep students and staff safe. We will continue to update our plans and provide you with more information as it becomes available. If you have questions about infectious diseases, call the Minnesota Department of Health at 651-201-5414.
We are in the prevention stage of helping manage the spread of COVID-19. The most important things we can all do are recommended to prevent the spread of any illness:
Protect yourself and others by washing your hands often with soap and water; covering your cough and sneeze; avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
If you or your child are sick, stay home from school and activities.
Do not return to school or work until you are feeling better and a fever is gone for at
least 24 hours without using fever-reducing medication.
Be prepared in case you get sick and need to stay home. Keep enough food, regular
prescription drugs, and other necessities on hand in case you need to stay home and are
not able to go out easily.
Frequently clean all commonly touched work surfaces, work areas, and equipment (e.g.,
telephones, doorknobs, lunch areas, countertops, copiers, etc.). To learn more about COVID-19, visit:
Minnesota Department of Health Coronavirus (COVID-19) Website (https://www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/index.html)
CDC Coronavirus (COVID-19) Website (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html)
Thank you for working with us to keep our community informed and safe.
Virginia Public Schools
New K-6 Elementary School Renderings
New 7-12 High School Renderings
Eveleth-Gilbert and Virginia Public Schools:
Updated Questions and Answers, February 2020
Q: What is happening with the acquisition of land for the schools?
A: We are in the final details of closing on the property Site B (where the high school and most athletic fields will be located) from the City of Virginia. A deal is in place. We are working with the City of Eveleth to acquire the necessary land for property Site A (where the Eveleth-Gilbert elementary school will be built). We hope to have this part of the process completed within days, and the final closing to be finished next week.
Q: When will the logging of the properties begin?–so the land can be cleared for construction to begin?
A: The schools have bid out the logging contract and once the land deals are closed, logging will commence this month and continue into March.
Q: What about wetlands and environmentally sensitive areas?
A: We are directing the architects and designers to avoid wetlands and any environmentally sensitive areas as much as possible. To that extent, all buildings and athletic fields are being intentionally designed to minimize the footprint on the land. This will greatly increase the future use of the sites for environmental learning stations and also add to the ambiance of the natural landscape.
Q: What is happening with the new high school design?
A: The architects are continuing to take the information gathered from the various stakeholders and are making adjustments to the draft designs of how the space might look in a new building. Recently, both school boards saw the schematic design for the high school and on February 3, the Joint School Board approved the schematic design. Note: Schematic designs are rough drawings of plans. The next phase is the design development phase, which simply means that the exterior and interior layouts, the room sizes and materials, HVAC, plumbing and electrical systems will be more fully designed.
Q: What is happening with the new Eveleth-Gilbert elementary school design?
A: Both school boards have seen the schematic design and the joint powers board has approved the schematic design. As with the high school, the next phase will be the development of the design development phase.
Q: What is happening with the new Virginia (Roosevelt) elementary school?
A: Nothing has started on the new Virginia elementary school because it will be the last building built. It will be the final building constructed because the high school students will need to be moved to the new high school before any construction on Roosevelt elementary can begin. The money to build the new Virginia elementary school has been specially set aside and can’t be used to complete other building projects.
Q: Are the buildings on budget?
A: Yes. Both the high school and the Eveleth-Gilbert elementary school are currently on budget and will be on budget before any bidding takes place. Because the school districts are in charge of the construction, all buildings must be on budget before any bidding takes place. This avoids the problem of “hoping we can afford it.” This is a different form of construction budgeting than what is used in some school construction projects, in which the building is designed without regard for cost, and then after the project is bid, the building is scaled down to what can be afforded. In this form of construction budgeting, cost overruns are more likely to occur. In our case, however, we are not sending out any bids until we are reasonably certain we can afford the final design. This helps drive down costs and keeps a tighter lid on the budget.
Q: How does the budget work for the construction of the high school and two elementary schools?
A: The total budget is $178,475,000 for a new high school and two new elementary schools. Included in the budget is $7,500,000 for the demolition of buildings which cannot be used or repurposed. The budget is specific and detailed for each building. Every square foot of building construction needs to be accounted for and taken into account. The budget requires attention to detail and precision and we intend to be prudent with taxpayer dollars. In addition, we are not moving money from one building to pay for something in another building. Each building had a specific budget when the plan went to the voters and we are sticking to the original budgetary plan. If costs rise or we run into unexpected expenses, then something will have to be reduced in that building to make the budget work. This is the same thing that happens with household budgets, and school construction budgets are no different.
Q: What about the athletic fields?
A: The architects are working with the Advisory Committee and school boards to design the athletic fields. All designs are preliminary, and the architects are constantly updating and changing them to fit student needs and the budget. As can be expected, the East end of the Range has building challenges that other parts of the state of Minnesota don’t have. These challenges include rocks, ravines, wetlands, and trees. To date, we will have a varsity baseball field, a JV baseball field, a varsity softball field, a JV softball field, a varsity football field with track and field, and a multi-use (football field size) athletic field. Two additional softball fields can be created by placing them on top of the multi-purpose field or the primary varsity football field. To create efficiencies and minimize construction costs, expect some fields to be joined together, (on top of one another) so they can be used in the spring, summer, and fall. Note: This is a developing trend in the creation of high school and collegiate fields. The University of Duluth has, for example, a softball field on top of the varsity football field, so the fields can be used more often, for more than one sport, rather than sitting idle much of the year.
Q: What about music programs?
A: We have worked with the music departments in both districts to ensure they are provided the necessary space to maintain high quality music programs in all areas of music. The new high school will include a performing arts auditorium with a more intimate seating capacity of 750 (note: we are investigating whether we can increase this seating capacity), ample practice spaces, and separate rooms for orchestra, band, and choir. There will also be musical instrument lockers, and an area for kids in music to congregate, talk, and study.
Q: What about tech ed in the new high school?
A: All designs are preliminary, but the current draft design will create, relative to the size of its general high school population, one of the largest tech ed areas in the upper Midwest. The total square footage allocated to tech ed will be larger than the equivalent of three full-size high school gyms. These spaces will allow our students to explore areas of interest and receive exposure and training in multiple areas, including those focused on future trends in technology education. (Note: This is where the building and trades are located.)
Q: What is happening with the swimming pools?
A: Unfortunately, because of the extraordinary site prep costs associated with the site–rocks, water, ravines, trees–we have had to remove the community pool from the design. (Note: It is important to understand that all of the final building sites being considered had significant construction obstacles–such as rocks, water, ravines, trees.) There will continue to be a large competitive pool with ample seating capacity for large swim meets.
Q: Why do we need so many classrooms? I want more athletic fields. Can’t they cut the classrooms to build more athletic fields?
A: No. We’re not going to do that. Education and classrooms come first. We are designing educational opportunities and learning spaces first and making sure our students and teachers have the space they need. Sports and athletic fields will come second. We are not going to sacrifice the educational futures of our children and grandchildren just to build another athletic field. That said, our athletic fields will be built very well and will serve our athletes well.
Q: I’m hearing that some people are upset about the space they are getting? What is happening?
A: The taxpayers were very generous with their “yes” vote to build a new high school and two elementary buildings. But it does not mean everybody gets everything they want. Just as in any household building project, there is a budget, and the school districts will build what they can afford within the budget. Compromises are part of any building budget. That said, once people walk into the new buildings, we believe they will be very happy with what they discover.
Q: Have teachers visited other schools and observed first-hand what is happening in newly-constructed schools off the Range?
Q: Yes. Teachers have visited twelve schools so far, most of them in Minnesota. All of the schools they visited have been recently constructed. All of the teachers who have visited these schools have said that it was critical for them to see what was happening in modern school construction. The teachers, both elementary and high school, have collectively said the visits were some of the best things they have professionally done. About forty elementary and high school teachers from both school districts participated in the visits.
Q: Will these buildings be different than other school buildings in Minnesota?
A: Yes. Within budget, these buildings will be designed according to the learning needs of the students being considered first, as the number one important priority. In the high school, education will be transformed into something which is better aligned with student interests, helping students make wiser career decisions, which will include the opportunity for business and school partnerships. For high school students, it is a game changer. For elementary school students, the new elementary schools will be designed with 21st century skills as the backbone of educational architecture and programming.
Q: What is the Advisory Committee?
A: The Advisory Committee, which is composed of members of both the Eveleth-Gilbert and Virginia school districts, exists because, as the process moves along, it will be important to have direct recommendations going to the architects and builders. The Advisory Committee will, in turn, report directly to the Joint Powers Board, which includes three school board members from Eveleth-Gilbert and three school board members from Virginia Public Schools.
Q: When will construction start?
A: We are targeting construction to begin on the Eveleth-Gilbert elementary school in the Spring/Summer of 2020 and for construction to begin on the high school in the Fall of 2020.
Q: When will the buildings open?
A: The Eveleth-Gilbert Elementary school will most likely open in the Fall of 2022. The combined Career Academy High School will most likely open in the Fall of 2023. Construction on the Virginia (Roosevelt) elementary school will not begin until after the new high school opens.
Q: I have additional questions. How do I get answers?
A: The best and fastest way to get answers is to call/ email the Virginia superintendent Dr. Noel Schmidt, at 218-749-5437 extension firstname.lastname@example.org or call/email the Eveleth-Gilbert superintendent Jeff Carey at email@example.com.
“A source of community strength and pride, the Virginia Public Schools work in partnership with families and the local community to educate and engage our students and prepare them to be productive and responsible citizens.”
The Virginia Public Schools’ work is guided by these principles:
- Respect – Our District upholds the concept of equality and practices mutual respect for individual differences at every level of school interaction. We want all students to feel they belong, are included, and have the opportunity to learn in a safe environment.
- The Whole Child – We embrace a comprehensive approach to education that ensures each student is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. Our definition of success is focused on the balanced development of children in addition to academic achievement.
- Highest Quality – Our District values a culture of continuous improvement, seeking out best practices and regularly assessing our results in order to maximize individual student potential.
- Community Engagement – We address the comprehensive needs of students through a shared responsibility and mutual partnership between students, families, school and community.
- Stewardship – As a public school, we are dedicated to utilizing the community’s educational assets in an accountable, cost-effective way, keeping the collective needs of students as our top priority.
Vision Of Educational Success
The Virginia Public School District envisions an environment where every child matters and strong community roots foster success. Young adults emerging from our schools will be well-rounded in their experiences and knowledge from academics, to the arts, to athletics. This range of opportunities will allow individuals to explore and discover their talents and interests, eventually helping them to determine a career path and lifetime pursuits. Alignment of coursework with their individual career choice will fully prepare students for whichever post-secondary path they want to follow, understanding that all these choices have value. Every student will be supported to graduate from high school, and will do so knowing the next steps they will take toward achieving their future goals.
No matter their direction, all students will possess basic life skills, be financially literate, and have the ability to use 21st century technology. They will be critical thinkers and creative problem solvers who love learning and are motivated to continue gaining knowledge throughout their lives. They will know how to think for themselves while working towards a common goal with a diverse group of people. They will be kind and respectful young adults with the interpersonal skills that allow them to function well in society. They will possess inner strength and confidence, and will have developed the resilience and coping skills needed to face life’s challenges. They will be physically and mentally healthy and take responsibility for leading healthy lifestyles. Students will leave our school with a sense of belonging and pride in the community they come from, be able to think beyond themselves, and have a desire to give back.