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March 04, 2018 10:11 PM

Planning For The Future, With The Past In Mind

Sioux Falls school buildings are over capacity, and the population continues to grow.  While we've been discussing this issue a lot lately, it's not a new problem for Sioux Falls.  25 years ago, the city and school board were faced with these same challenges. 

Making decisions for the future can come at a cost.

"It was so acrimonious at the hearings, we were actually worried about for our safety and there was anger everywhere," said Melanie Bliss, former school board member. 

This frightening rage was all because of a new school in Sioux Falls. Melanie Bliss was on the School Board for six years in the late '80s and early '90s. 

Back then, they had several overcrowded schools. Their solution was to raise taxes with bonds, and build new. But even after the new schools like Washington High were built, there were issues.

"The wars broke out about the boundaries, when the new school would get finished. And it really was a war because everyone wanted to stay at Lincoln High School, and wanted to be within the boundaries of Lincoln. And there weren't enough people to go to Washington High School where it was located," said Bliss. 

Fast forward about 25 years, and Sioux Falls is seeing the same issues come to the surface.

"The teachers' lounge or the teachers' dining room is a classroom. Our music ensemble room, which was meant for small groups during band practice, is a classroom. We've got two conference rooms that are classrooms. So that has been a challenge," said Aaron. 

Carrie Aaron has been at Memorial Middle School since it was a built in the early 90s, another one of Bliss's projects. She says even though Memorial got 11 new classrooms, those immediately filled up.

The school also has trouble with the common space the students are sharing between classes.

"In our lunchroom we have 450 to 473 kids at once eating lunch. And there's only so much gym space. We've got 120 kids in most of the gym classes," said Aaron. 
While the solution two decades ago was raising taxes, that hasn't been decided for the current situation.

"We can't do anything without our community voting yes. So, will we raise taxes? Maybe. But we won't do it without being very clear on what we get for those raised taxes. And we won't do it without everybody saying, or at least the vast majority of folks, saying yes," said Maher. 

Superintendent Brian Maher says he's been working to reach out to those who had a hand in these tough calls before he arrived in Sioux Falls. 

"Our community hasn't been through a school bond issue since 1997. That's crazy to think that it's been that long. So absolutely I think we should go back and learn from what happened in 1997. Even though our community is different, our school system is different, there's still a lot of similarities and lessons to be learned," said Maher. 

"People need to talk to them and realize that this is a complex process. And to understand that everybody should have the first interests of the children, because they are our future," said Bliss. 

While these are old and new struggles, it's not all bad news for the thriving city. 

"The thought of communities that are, whose industries are going down or their populations are going down. That's worse. So we're lucky that we have the growth that we have. We just have to figure out how to make it work," said Aaron.

So history doesn't repeat itself.

The district will be hosting community engagement meetings this month. Maher would like to have everyone with ideas come out and help solve the overcrowding issue.

Meeting will be held:

March 5 at Washington High School
March 6 at Roosevelt High School
March 26 at Lincoln High School

All from 7-8:30 p.m.

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