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River Falls council, district look to joint future

River Falls School Board Vice President Mike Stifter and River Falls Mayor Dan Toland opened the joint meeting of the two units. The board and district discussed strategic plans, current projects and potential future developments. Rebecca Mariscal / Rivertown Multimedia

River Falls City Council and River Falls School Board members gathered Tuesday, June 13 for a joint meeting to share current developments and plans for the future.

"The intent of our meeting was to make sure the two boards get an opportunity to meet," City Administrator Scot Simpson said.

Population and enrollment

The city has seen steady, but not large population growth over the last seven years throughout the city.

"The community growth has really been north, south, east and west," Simpson said.

Superintendent Jamie Benson said the district's enrollment study reflects this steady growth. The district expects to see a 1.5 percent growth each year, that will grow its more than 3,000 current students. Though the middle school and high school have room to grow, Benson said the elementary capacity is pretty full.

"We will need to take into consideration some space needs," he said.

The district is currently conducting a facility needs study.

"We're looking at all of our buildings from rooftops to the floors," Benson said.

With these needs coming up, Benson said the community will likely see a referendum in the next couple years.

"We're hoping to take a measured approach, a very mindful approach and an approach that involves the community along the way," Benson said.

Election poll concerns

After recent elections, Benson said the district has safety concerns about holding elections in school buildings. The district has reached a decision not to host them anymore.

"It really came down to a safety issue, plain and simple," Benson said.

Council member Christopher Gagne asked if a specific incident led to the concerns.

"I don't think we want to wait for something bad to happen as our reasoning for taking proactive security measures," Benson explained.

Access to buildings on a normal school day is very limited, Benson said, but on election day anyone can walk into the building. Benson said the district has looked at what other communities are doing, and many district also do not have elections held at schools.

"Our buildings weren't designed as polling places," he said.

Simpson said the district and city have talked about this issue, and the city is working on a plan to not use the schools at all.

"We understand and we appreciate the partnership that we've had," Simpson said.

City Council member Scott Morrissette said he was concerned about switching polling places for citizens.

"We are creatures of habit with voting," he said.

Alan Tuchtenhagen said he appreciates the model it presents to students.

"It sends a clear, clear message to our kids about what voting is about," he said.

Tuchtenhagen said he'd like to see the two public units continue to cooperate and address the concern.

Rebecca Mariscal

Rebecca Mariscal joined the Hudson Star Observer as a reporter in 2016. She graduated from the University of St. Thomas with a degree in communication and journalism. 

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