They're certainly not rock stars - their suits and ties give that much away - but they're on tour, coming to a conference room, church or even a dining room table near you.
School administrators and board members from the Brainerd School District have been out, usually in pairs, speaking to area civic organizations, church groups, parent and teacher groups and in private homes - anyone who will listen about the upcoming operating levy referendum and anywhere there is a plug-in available for their laptop computer slide show presentation.
Lately they've been giving at least 10 presentations a week, usually several in one day, to provide voters with information about the school district's financial situation and the referendum. Steve Dickinson, director of business services, estimated they've given about 40 presentations so far and have another 60 or so scheduled before the Nov. 6 election.
Brainerd Assistant Superintendent Steve Razidlo spoke to Baxter Elementary School staff members Tuesday in the school media center about the upcoming operating levy referendum. Brainerd Dispatch/Nels Norquist» Purchase reprints of this photo.
The presentations are meant to dispel what officials call rumors and myths - like the one about how the construction of Forestview Middle School caused the district's financial woes (It didn't.).
They're not afraid of the tough questions - like, "If the district got rid of most of its administrative staff wouldn't that help?" (Answer: No, it wouldn't. If they cut every administrator and secretary, the district would still need to cut 51 teachers.)
In fact, they welcome these questions, since they want to know the reasons why people might vote against the referendum. If they don't have immediate answers for questions, they'll take phone numbers and find out those answers for voters. Brainerd Superintendent Jerry Walseth said he spent nearly two hours on the phone last Sunday with a woman who had questions - and was quite skeptical - about the referendum.
The sales pitch is a soft sell, really, since administrators said they are really trying to get out accurate information on why the district needs this referendum - and the consequences of a failed referendum.
"We want people to walk in (to vote) having the information, whether you support it or not," said Walseth. "We are a public school and we represent the community."
At a recent parent meeting at Brainerd High School, Brainerd Assistant Superintendent Steve Razidlo said he was asked "Is this real? Is this truthful?" that the district will make $5.5 million in cuts if the referendum fails.
"My answer is the same," Razidlo said as he relayed the story to Baxter teachers at their presentation hours later. "Yes."
Administrators know that when they give the information to others, particularly their staff members, who are often asked questions about the referendum, then they can reach even more people who might not care to attend a district presentation.
Todd Lyscio, director of Brainerd Community Education, gave a presentation on the school district's upcoming operating levy referendum, along with board member Ruth Nelson (left), to a parent advisory council Tuesday at Brainerd High School South. Brainerd Dispatch/Nels Norquist» Purchase reprints of this photo.
"It's our job to deliver the information. It's your job to understand and believe whatever it is, and vote," Razidlo told Baxter teachers Tuesday.
One Baxter teacher, who had recently worked in another Minnesota school district that didn't pass a referendum, said many parents later told her that they wished they had known that so many teachers and other staff would lose their jobs, that programs would be cut.
"Just keep talking," the teacher told Razidlo. "It's really important."
One retired teacher who attended a retired educators meeting at the Sawmill Inn Thursday said he hears a lot of talk about how Forestview was built too extravagantly. Walseth discussed how at the time the former Washington High School likely was considered too extravagant in its appearance, but the well-built facility, now used as administrative offices along with many other uses, has stood the test of time.
The issue also came up at a parent meeting at Brainerd High School South Campus. Todd Lyscio, director of Brainerd Community Education, said Forestview is so energy-efficient that it costs the same to heat and maintain the large facility (2,023 students) as it does to do the same at Harrison Elementary School (249 students).
Walseth said research has shown that many voters make their decisions based on emotion, rather than facts, whether it be about a candidate or a political issue. Distrust of administrators may be one reason why people plan to vote no on the referendum or perhaps they had a bad experience with a school staff member or teacher.
Administrators said they understand that and hope that they are given an opportunity during these presentations for voters to get to know them as well as the issues affecting the district. Razidlo has mentioned during his presentations that he, too, has a kindergartner in the Brainerd School District, so larger class sizes concern him. This referendum affects him personally as well as professionally.
"I want to personally thank you," a retired educator told Walseth and Dickinson Thursday at the Sawmill Inn. "This is a lot of work. You've just got to keep bombarding them."
"We want educated voters no matter how they feel," Dickinson said. "We want them to have knowledge of the issue."
Dickinson said they have sent a school representative to each "Vote No" committee meeting at the Brainerd Public Library and have offered to provide them with a presentation. He said they have declined.
JODIE TWEED may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5858.
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