Auditoriums get low billing

by Jim Boyle

The Elk River Area School Board will be making a decision soon about how to configure an operating levy renewal and addition this fall to address educational needs of the district.

Elk River Area School Board Chairwoman Jolene Jorgensen has also asked fellow members to consider a bond referendum to add auditoriums at Rogers and Zimmerman  high schools, but her colleagues have not joined her in her quest.

Jorgensen made a pitch last month to school board members and reiterated her desire at a June 18 work session.

Superintendent Mark Bezek said he would prefer to let the community take the lead on such a push, and is researching a potential revenue source that could give flight to any push that comes from a school and arts community.

He reminded school board members of the community backing that came from the community of Rogers when people there sought a high school.

“There was a burning desire,” Bezek said, adding a small group working in the background look for grassroots support of arts facilities.

School board members agreed to form an ad hoc committee to seek out arts advocates in each community to gauge interest in a push for auditoriums. This group could also examine additional funding sources.

Bezek has been approached about turning a percentage of school locker bays over to national marketing firms, who would pay for the ability to advertise health, education, nutrition and safety initiatives. One school could easily generate $12,000 a year.

“Times that by 20 and you have a pretty significant amount of money,” Bezek said. “You could generate enough to make a (yearly) bond payment.”

None of the school board members opposed looking into such possibilities. School board member Holly Thompson urged caution in opening up the schools to national firms when they have turned down local firms.

The idea of going out for a bond referendum in a more traditional sense this fall has no traction, however. Jorgensen is alone in her willingness to consider a bond referendum at this time to finish off the high schools in Rogers and Zimmerman.

School board member Janelle Henry said at a work session last month for her it comes down to needs versus wants.

Jorgensen countered that  some people’s wants are other people’s needs, depending on their educational and career goals.

Students at the high schools in Zimmerman and Rogers use cafetoriums as make-shift stages in school lunchrooms. Jorgensen compared putting on plays in a cafetorium to a musical group performing in a garage.

“Do we really support the arts?” Jorgensen questioned in a statement. “Do we really believe that those involved in the arts do better academically? Do we support equity for all areas of the school district? Do we need to continue to invest in the arts and activities beyond just the middle school music program? Do we believe our students are missing opportunities to explore and accomplish their dreams?

“I answered yes to all those questions,” she said. “We need to make both Zimmerman and Rogers schools whole.”