Brainerd Superintendent Jerry Walseth spoke in measured tones but with passion to the packed audience at Thursday's school board Finance Committee meeting.
"We asked for a mandate and our community gave us a mandate," Walseth began. "It no longer matters who voted which way. That discussion needs to end. What needs to become the focus of this community is what we're going to do next year and, equally important, what we're going to do for the future."
Following the defeat of the operating levy referendum Nov. 6, Walseth extended a challenge to the community, which was published in the Brainerd Dispatch and can be found on the district's Web site, www.isd181.org. He asked for community members to get involved in the schools and so far there have been two new volunteers who have stepped forward. He asked for members of the business community to do some brainstorming on ways to help and he said some people have stepped forward and are ready to do that.
Brainerd Superintendent Jerry Walseth implored those who attended the Brainerd School Board Finance Committee meeting to become part of the solution by requiring lawmakers and the governor to create a vision for everyone, including the business, health care and education communities, and to stop pitting one against the other.
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"There's a lot of frustration in the community," said Walseth. "There is a way for you to act. The very way for us to act is to be part of the solution and part of that solution is embracing our local legislators with a challenge. Stop having school districts in our communities beg in their communities. Stop having our youngest compete with our oldest residents. Stop having education compete with health care and with having people to have to leave their homes. The business community, the healthcare sector - we need to sit down and problem solve a vision for all of us and tell legislators to quit paring us off against the other. That's the action each one of us can take regardless of whether we have a dollar or not."
Walseth said not to stop at legislators, but to take it to Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
"There has to be a state vision and there is none," said Walseth. "Leadership requires that. Let's help them discover the meaning of state leadership."
Walseth said he's read with consternation of people pitted against one another following the levy vote defeat.
"And shame on us as a community for doing this," said Walseth, adding that we need to embrace civil, respectful discussions on any topic.
"None of the recommendations you're about to hear have been made without a great deal of review and thought, understanding and pain," said Walseth. "But it's not nearly the pain that the people are going to feel who are impacted by the decisions and the recommendations. So be supportive as we go forward in the community. Put a challenge out in front of the legislators, to author bills like the proposal to allow our elderly who are retired to mentor in schools for a tax deduction."
Walseth said that while the "buck" stops at him with the recommendations for budget reductions, the decisions belong to the school board.
JODIE TWEED may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5858.
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