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Our Opinion: Brainerd a ghetto? Get real

It was disappointing, to say the least, to see Mark Ronnei refer to Brainerd as a ghetto in comments made Monday before the Brainerd School Board.

Ronnei, a member of the school district's long-range comprehensive facilities planning committee, told the board four of the district's elementary schools and Brainerd High School are within the city limits of the poorest city in Minnesota.

"Recent violence in our country has its roots in the communities where there's a concentration of poverty," Ronnei said in a Dispatch story that ran Wednesday. He went on to provide the definition of a ghetto, and stated the statistics were irrefutable that Brainerd was one.

What Ronnei failed to offer, however, were those statistics that showed Brainerd was in fact a ghetto, or how events in other parts of the country somehow equate to Brainerd.

Ronnei cites the city as one of the poorest in Minnesota, yet doesn't say how he came to that conclusion. Did Brainerd have one of the highest unemployment rates in the state in the past (which it doesn't now, by a long shot)? Yes, but does that mean it is one of the poorest cities in the state? Doubtful.

Brainerd has the 110th lowest median household income of the 905 cities and census designated places in Minnesota at $32,169, the state Department of Employment and Economic Development reported using data from 2010-2014. For comparison,the next three large comparable cities with low median household incomes are Virginia ($33,143), Bemidji ($33,197), and International Falls ($33,271). Since the school district pulls from many more communities than Brainerd, the Census Bureau reports Crow Wing County has a median household income of $49,186 in 2014 dollars with 10.9 percent of residents in poverty. Cass County's median household income was $45,567 using the census information with 17 percent of residents living below the poverty level.

Statistics Ronnei did offer in making his claim is that 41 percent of all Brainerd Public Schools students receive free and reduced lunch and that 40 percent of students who enter ninth-grade in Brainerd don't complete any kind of postsecondary education.

We don't see the correlation between those statistics and Brainerd being a ghetto. In fact, Ronnei fails to address the fact that Brainerd School District students not only come from Brainerd but from Baxter, Nisswa, Unorganized Territory and several other rural areas.

And that's our problem with Ronnei's comments and other similar comments others have made in the past. Such statements are without actual facts to back them up and don't offer a solution on how the school district could or should be addressing them.

One wonders if Ronnei has ever visited Brainerd's neighborhoods and talked with its residents. If he had, he would realize that each neighborhood is unique, with many beautiful features and, for the most part, well-maintained homes and businesses. Brainerd is an older city, and understanding its history as a railroad town and a mill town helps show how these neighborhoods came into being.

Does Brainerd have issues? Of course it does. Show us a city that doesn't. But using generalized statements to put the city in a negative light is not only false but disrespectful to Brainerd residents.

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