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Tribune Editorial: It is time, once and for all, to pass the school bond referendum

Let us acknowledge something right from the start: It is hard to opt into something that takes money out of our pockets. We work hard for that money, and as some of it is already involuntarily taken from us in the form of federal, state and local taxes, it can be very tough to raise your hand and say, "take some more." We get that. We feel that. Everybody feels that.

But at the end of the day, it is decisions like the one we're about to make for the school's building bond referendum that will determine who we are as a community. What do we value? Who do we value? What do we want our legacy to be? The health and vibrancy of the community we live in is determined by decisions like this.

The Detroit Lakes schools are still overcrowded. Enrollment is still going up and is expected to continue trending up — those are facts that will not change by simply ignoring them and voting no. Gym space has proven to be incredibly inadequate for the amount of valued sports and fitness programs this district offers.

They need more classrooms, they need to get teachers out of closets. They need more security, they need to keep up with today's technology and opportunities. These educators have been doing the best they can and "making things work" for a long time, getting creative and squeaking out mini-miracles, but they need the means to do better because they cannot keep doing this forever when the problem is worsening.

It isn't a matter of keeping up with the Jones — they aren't asking to build the biggest and the best — it's now just a matter of keeping up with ourselves and the needs of our students and school staff.

Detroit Lakes district leaders and its school boards have kept taxes per pupil far below the state and regional average for many years. It is a thankless accomplishment as they've dedicated thousands of hours collectively to come up with a plan that would both address the growing needs of the district — and also be palatable for community members who educators know they must make their pleas to.

Those district leaders, board members and groups of referendum advocates tried three times with three different plans, learning each time a little bit more about what the community does and does not want. They listened when people said they didn't like the location of the last plan. They listened when people said they wanted to maintain community schools. They listened when people said the price tag was too high.

They listened and listened. They held public meeting after public meeting both before, during and after this latest plan was developed. Will it be perfect for everyone? No, it can't be; that's impossible, particularly with this size district. There will always be people who wished the plan included this or that, but what this district has learned is that long wish lists and their price tags aren't doable or passable in this community, and that's fine.

They've taken what people have said over the many evenings of citizen input and created a plan that starts with the most vital needs and works its way down, stopping before it becomes what the public has deemed unaffordable.

They've explored every parcel of land, every option, every idea that's come up, every possibility. They've brought in experts to help analyze all of those things to determine what was workable. They've done everything we've asked of them, and the result is a community-led plan. This thing has been put together bit by bit over time as citizens weighed in. We, the Detroit Lakes community, created this plan. This is what we asked for — let's take it. Vote yes on Tuesday. (Tribune editorials represent the views of Detroit Lakes management, including Publisher Melissa Swenson and Editor Paula Quam.)

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