For too many years the tough decision has evaded Iron Range school districts — kicked down the road for another election, another board and another generation.

To their credit, the first attempt at culling together Eveleth-Gilbert, Virginia and Mountain Iron-Buhl into one district was poorly-conceived and ill-fated from the beginning. But this time is different and has always been different.

On Monday, Eveleth-Gilbert and Virginia school boards will face a decision to start the now-inevitable process of consolidating districts before the two join forces on the academies model high school. Later, they will have to figure how the ultimate decision is made: by a vote of the boards or by a vote of the people.

E-G has already kicked the can down the road from last week and, while almost unanimously voicing support for consolidation, seem ready to waver on how to do it.

There’s a strong argument to be made that residents of both districts deserve a say in whether one school district rules over the collaboration vote taken this past May. But there’s an equally compelling argument that the vote of the people was essentially made when the joint schools were approved a few months back.

Consolidation as the ultimate result was no secret, but it was tip-toed around by the current boards because of the poor leadership years ago that tried to usher in dramatic change with very little public input. This was not reflective of the effort initiated by Virginia Superintendent Noel Schmidt, E-G Superintendent Jeff Carey and their respective boards over the past two years.

Through more than 100 meetings discussing their plans, some of which openly said consolidation was the end goal, the public had its chance to openly sway the direction of this process. It also had a very big say in the May vote, which passed with strong support for collaboration.

It was perhaps the most transparent process the region has seen in years, facing only a late challenge by a few rogue board members in the final weeks leading up to the vote.

Setting aside the dizzying logistics of not consolidating, for the Iron Range and its schools to truly have the impact they hope to achieve through the academy model, they need to consolidate.

And more importantly, they need decisive action of the board to do so.

A public vote, on its core basis, is never a bad thing. And arguing for a board vote isn’t expressing no confidence the public won’t support consolidation. But for the academies model to work — for this 21st century education model to succeed — the boards need to do what they were elected to do and make a decision. Don’t remove dissent by those opposed — but remove all doubt that a statistically significant survey and previous vote could be for naught.

For the Range to move forward on something necessary — and something difficult — it needs real leadership from those in a position to make a difference.

Voting to consolidate has zero actual impacts to the common resident. Taxes will not be impacted, home values will not rise or fall. The only thing in jeopardy is something that is already lost by May’s vote — the parochialism that has hampered the Range from progress before.

By taking on the decision making, the Eveleth-Gilbert and Virginia school boards are doing what we the voters tasked them to do. They’re being leaders in a time when strong leadership is needed.

Real leadership is the only way new and innovative ideas can move forward, and the Range needs it now more than ever.


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