Update from Ely Public Schools Superintendent Erik Erie

This has certainly been a school year unlike no other for our Ely School faculty, staff, students, their families and our community. The Distance Learning model of delivering education has been a significant change for all of us, presenting many challenges. I would like to thank students and their families for all they have done to make Distance Learning work in their homes.
While we have been navigating Distance Learning, our Ely School District has also been looking into the future on how to provide a 21st Century Learning environment for our students and community. On May 11, our Ely School Board decided to move forward with a $10 million bond referendum to raise funds that can help address the needs of our aging buildings, connect our buildings for safety and security, and provide new flexible learning spaces for 21st Century Learning. Election day for the referendum is August 11, and absentee balloting starts as early as June 26.

How did we get to this point?
In September of 2018, former Superintendent Kevin Abrahamson secured a School Safety Grant of $495,000 from the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE). Plans were developed to join the buildings with a $1.9 million Linkways system, basically a secure entrance with hallways between buildings and not much else. A community based task force was formed to help identify additional needs and propose solutions. Then a community survey was conducted in the fall of 2019 which indicated the community would support addressing the needs identified, up to a figure of $11 million. Knowing that the needs identified by the task force exceeded this dollar figure, the District applied to Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation (IRRR) in hopes of securing more funding. With help from many people and the support of our local legislators, the District was awarded a $7 million grant from the IRRR. The District committed $500,000 from their general fund balance as well as $1.6 million from Long Term Maintenance Funds (LTFM) to bring the total funding for the project up to $19.65 million.

Why hold a referendum now?
With the changes we are experiencing in our economy due to COVID-19, it may seem like waiting to pursue a referendum would make sense. That is an understandable position. On the other hand there are a number of good reasons why moving forward with a referendum now is a course of action the Ely School District should follow. One reason for moving forward now is that the grants that have been secured from IRRR and MDE will sunset and they are dependent on additional funding from the District and the community. The $7 million commitment from the IRRR is contingent on passing a $10 million referendum by December 31 of this year. We either take the opportunity to use it or we may lose it. Another reason to move ahead is that the challenges we are experiencing now with our buildings will not go away. The roofs, windows, plumbing, electrical, and heating/ventilation/air conditioning (HVAC) systems all need significant attention while our students continue to have to go between buildings in all kinds of weather, exposed not only to the elements, but to anyone who might venture onto our school campus. The safety and security of our students is something we can not ignore.
The way the funding for the building project is structured, local homeowners, businesses, and timber land owners would get $19.65 million in improvements for $8 million. At this time next year a building project of nearly $20 million could be pumping up the local Ely economy, a stimulus package that could help the community.

Are other school referendums being held elsewhere at this time?
Yes. Roseau Community Schools just passed a $40 million referendum on May 12.

Where can I get more information?
The Ely School District has created an informational brochure that will be mailed out to all District residents very soon. In the meantime, you can view the information on our District website: https://www.ely.k12.mn.us/ or visit our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/ely.k12.mn.us/
If you contact the District Office at 218-365-6166 and leave a message, an informational brochure can be sent to you via email or one can be mailed out to you.
You can also contact me for more information by calling 218-365-1725 (school) or 218-750-4564 (cellular). My email address is eerie@ely.k12.mn.us

Congratulations to the Ely Memorial High School Class of 2020!
A unique Commencement Ceremony is being held May 30, at 7:00 p.m
As only graduates and their families are able to attend due to social distancing guidelines form MDE, we ask you to tune in to WELY and observe the parade of graduates after the ceremony as they move down Harvey Street and loop around to Sheridan to be recognized by their community.