Rural Range district feels pain of big plan gone awry

A fascinating story by Elizabeth Dunbar at Minnesota Public Radio details the woes of the St. Louis County school district and the consulting firm it followed in implementing a vast consolidation and construction plan last year.

A plan narrowly approved by voters in the seven communities of the large, rural district closed or reduced function of five schools, built two new ones and remodeled another. The promise made by Johnson Controls, the firm the district hired to plan its options, was that this would preserve the solvency of the district and its ability to serve students.

Well, the district is still in the red. The consolidation plan isn’t the only reason why, but for the communities already put through the wringer on this issue this is profoundly disappointing.

The St. Louis County schools compose a fairly unique district. Almost all rural, many of these schools cover wide areas. Some students in the district live near Iron Range towns and have the option of attending larger schools (increasingly they are). But the same schools serve distant outposts of woods and wilderness and students who don’t have anywhere else to go. This is a real test case for the “Minnesota Miracle,” or the concept that the state serves all students equally regardless of where they live.


  1. I saw the article on the MPR site. It was fairly well balanced. The district actually remodeled 3 schools, built 2 (one not finished.) The article didn’t mention the major reduction in class choices prior to the consolidation. It also didn’t mention the competition from charter schools and on line schools. Tower is adding a charter school. Also, the neighboring districts have lost numbers, so they are willing to run buses right into our district to transport students. I think that questioning Johnson Controls is worth doing, I don’t believe any person could accurately predict his own family’s path 5 years in advance, much less predict the specifics of a large, sprawling district, with the unforeseen recession.

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