New Virginia/Eveleth-Gilbert high school plan gains major funding boost

This image shows what educational space looks like in an academies model school. (IMAGE: Virginia Eveleth Gilbert School Collaboration Facebook group)

Two rival Iron Range school districts will build a consolidated high school if voters approve a now greatly subsidized school levy.

Last Friday, the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board recommended to its state department a $100 million investment in a shared Virginia and Eveleth-Gilbert high school. Almost $5 million per year would space out over 20 years.

The IRRRB is only an advisory board. The Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation will officially green-light the spending, contingent on voter approval of the project.

Additional money from the State of Minnesota school formula would add another $5 million annually. Thus, taxpayers in these districts need only consider funding about 20 percent of the cost of the new $164-$181 million school.

Proponents argue that it would be more expensive for taxpayers to maintain the aging high schools in Virginia and Eveleth than to use these financial resources to build the new schools. That is, of course, built on the assumption that the state and local mining revenue is “extra.”

Regardless, it’s a great deal for the local districts, one that seems to be gathering support from local communities.

A similar $29 million deal was struck for a smaller new Mountain Iron-Buhl school a couple years ago. Voters there overwhelming adopted a small levy to cash in on a similar 80 percent discount from the IRRRB school consolidation fund.

Officials also dedicated $4.7 million from the IRRRB consolidation to the Grand Rapids school district. There four elementary schools will soon become three, with two of them being brand new facilities.

For the record, calling the Mountain Iron-Buhl or Grand Rapids school deals “consolidations” took a certain amount of political audacity, which the agency never saw fit to challenge. I wrote about that at the time, to little avail. (Arguably, this will be the epitaph on my grave).

Back to the Virginia/Eveleth-Gilbert project. Here, a new high school serving grades 7-12 will use an “academies” model. This would consciously reorganize the student experience, emphasizing project-based learning rather than the traditional classroom approach. Local teachers indicate broad support for the move, citing research showing student success in other districts that use it.

Proponents say this kind of learning requires different classroom spaces which are optimally designed in a new building. You can read central arguments for the project in this FAQ document.

This project reflects the largest single IRRRB investment in a school consolidation project. And it probably won’t be the last one, though Virginia/E-G will consume most of the funds for a long time.

We should expect consolidation to be an inevitable part of the future for Iron Range schools and, most likely, its city governments as well. Our population and tax base dropped substantially in the last century. Even if our fortunes change cities will not resemble their old selves.

Money from the Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation comes exclusively from iron ore production tax revenue. Mines don’t pay property taxes, they pay production taxes. The state distributes the money by formula to local governments, schools, counties, special state funds, and IRRRB economic development efforts.

The formula depends on mining revenue, though. That means every dollar ties to a certain amount of mineral resource that leaves the region forever. It behooves Iron Rangers to direct these funds toward long term planning for a new economic future.

New, world class schools represent to some the ideal way to spend production tax revenue. Citizens of the Iron Range will determine if that’s what we’re getting.


  1. LEGO school models as pictured are not particularly inviting. But then again I grew up in the shadows of the Kitzvilke School but had to bus to Brooklyn. Going in and out of a number of different high school buildings in the cities and suburban metro area as a teacher, parent and grandparent I have seen a lot of different architecture. I spent my last 18 years of teaching in a building designed for open education which seems to gravitate to what is referred to as academy education. It did not take long for that to a more traditional platform. Then the problem became how to redo the spaces that were designed for large open spaces. Will space arrangement in this design limit changing opportunities as we move through time is the question ?

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