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School Board: Citizen shows passion in public forum

The community forum portion of Monday night's Brainerd School Board meeting featured an impassioned address from a community member. Mark Ronnei, general manager of Grand View Lodge, is a member of the district's long-range comprehensive faciliti...

Mark Ronnei, general manager of Grand View Lodge, addresses the Brainerd School Board during community forum Monday night. (Brainerd Dispatch/Spenser Bickett)
Mark Ronnei, general manager of Grand View Lodge, addresses the Brainerd School Board during community forum Monday night. (Brainerd Dispatch/Spenser Bickett)

The community forum portion of Monday night's Brainerd School Board meeting featured an impassioned address from a community member.

Mark Ronnei, general manager of Grand View Lodge, is a member of the district's long-range comprehensive facilities planning committee. The committee is expected to present its plan and recommendation to the school board's Facilities Committee at its Aug. 5 meeting.

Monday night, Ronnei spoke briefly to the board about the plan. He said the planning process was sound and encouraged the board to consider a few factors as it moved forward with the plan.

Four of the district's elementary schools and Brainerd High School are within "the city limits of the poorest city in Minnesota," Ronnei said.

"Recent violence in our country has its roots in the communities where there's a concentration of poverty," Ronnei said.

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A concentration of poverty is what Merriam-Webster defines as a ghetto, Ronnei said. The definitions for ghetto listed in Merriam-Webster are:

• a quarter of a city in which Jews were formerly required to live,

• a quarter of a city in which members of a minority group live especially because of social, legal, or economic pressure,

• an isolated group,

• a situation that resembles a ghetto especially in conferring inferior status or limiting opportunity.

Ronnei said he's been criticized before for calling what's happening in Brainerd as the creation of a ghetto, "however, I think the stats are irrefutable."

A large percentage of elementary students live in poverty and in stressful conditions, Ronnei said. About 41 percent of all Brainerd Public Schools students receive free and reduced lunch.

"The closest thing we have to a silver bullet to address that is an above-average, innovative and situationally aware school district," Ronnei said.

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A good high school and postsecondary experience is critical to a student's success in life, Ronnei said. He said he's compiled statistics that show no more than 40 percent of students who enter ninth grade in the district successfully complete a "postsecondary educational experience as they leave our schools."

Tuesday, Ronnei told the Brainerd Dispatch he meant 40 percent of students who enter ninth grade in Brainerd don't complete any kind of postsecondary education, be it an undergraduate degree or a certification in a technical field. The statistics he studied were from BHS, the Initiative Foundation, the Minnesota Department of Education and the admissions office at Central Lakes College, he said.

"If we do not adapt, if we do not change, if we do not fight like it is a matter of life or death," Ronnei said, "the ghettos here will worsen, drugs, gangs and violence will follow as certainly as the sun will rise tomorrow."

It's hard to acknowledge this situation and work to change it, Ronnei said. Leaders in the district have to do more to change things, he said, and not simply say there's nothing they can do.

"In the face of calamity, only our very best will do," Ronnei said.

The long-range comprehensive facilities plan is a good start to address these issues, Ronnei said. However, he cautioned the school board against taking the easy path when it came to facilities planning.

"What's required is hard, it's the hardest thing that many of us will ever do," Ronnei said. "We have to stand up for the future of our children and the future of our community."

The plan that will be presented to the school board is a living document, Ronnei said, but in his opinion, it's not aggressive enough or radical enough to address the community's issues.

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"I've talked to a lot of people about this, and there's a lot of support in our community," Ronnei said.

Ronnei was the only person to speak during community forum. He said Tuesday he spoke because he feels a social conviction to leave a place better than he found it. The state Department of Education is making it tough for the district to have local control over the education of students in the district, he said.

"I'm afraid for our area and I'm afraid for our children," Ronnei said Tuesday.

SPENSER BICKETT may be reached at 218-855-5859 or spenser.bickett@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/spenserbickett .

Related Topics: GRAND VIEW LODGE
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