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Fewer board members, new buildings, and a new identity to come with Iron Range school consolidation

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IRON RANGE, MN -- Last May, voters passed a referendum to consolidate two school districts on the iron range into one.

If the consolidation passes through the state, Eveleth-Gilbert and Virginia schools would become the Rock Ridge Wolverines.

What has been a 3 year plan for the new school is starting to wind down.

Eveleth-Gilbert Superintendent, Jeff Carey, says if approved by the state commissioner, the schools will become one on July 1.

"We've been talking about this long enough that people are pretty excited about the new opportunities that will be available to our kids. It's going to be a huge educational change on the Range," Carey said.

Last month, both school boards submitted their consolidation plan to the state. Now, they're waiting on approval.

If they get it, Virginia Superintendent Noel Schmidt says each board will decide if - and how - they want to vote on the state's revisions.

"They are the legal entity with the school district. They can decide to vote, they can decide to take the vote to the public. It's up to the school boards at the first level," Schmidt said.

The consolidation also means that the schools will lose board members. Both Eveleth-Gilbert and Virginia have 13 total members combined. That number would be cut down to 7 by 2024.

Virginia School Board Chair, Greg Manninen, says this would be more productive and efficient.

"You've got 13 members, 13 different views. When you narrow that down into a smaller amount of people with committees, and knowledgeable about different subjects, it works better," Manninen said.

As for new school buildings, Superintendent Carey says they're in the design phase, with a goal of having buildings ready by 2023.

Carey says the consolidation process has been long, but that's why it's going so smoothly.

"When you have two school districts that have historically been rivals… there's certainly potential for things to go wrong. But we're taking it very slow and easy," Carey said.

Superintendent Schmidt says he thinks the lengthy process will be worth it.

"We're trying to transform education on the Range. This is way more than new buildings. This is changing culture, changing education, 21st century skills, making school more relevant to our kids," Schmidt said.

Dr. Schmidt says right now, there isn't a time frame for when they will hear back from the state of Minnesota about the consolidation plan, but they're expecting a response in the near future.

Jenna Wells

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