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Forum Editorial: Is one high school really the best option for Moorhead?

Moorhead school officials have convinced themselves that they should build a mega school to accommodate their growing high school enrollment. Their master plan calls for continuing with a single high school -- either a completely new school or an addition to the current high school, built in 1966. There is no question that Moorhead must prepare for enrollment growth, with projected high school grades, 9 through 12, expected to surpass 2,300 by the 2022-23 school year.

We understand the pressures to maintain a single high school. We know Spud pride and loyalty run deep in Moorhead. We also understand that operating one high school offers financial efficiencies that are attractive to taxpayers. But we urge Moorhead Area School Board members and administrators to hit the pause button before they make a financial commitment likely to surpass $100 million. It’s instructive to look at how West Fargo has responded to enrollment pressures. West Fargo also had a strong tradition of a single high school. Parents pleaded, some with tears, not to break up their beloved Packers. In the end, perhaps forced by the tide of new students, West Fargo wisely opted to build Sheyenne High School. Now West Fargo residents root for the Mustangs along with the Packers -- and West Fargo is grappling with the need for a third high school, while Fargo isn’t far away from having to decide whether to build a fourth public high school or expand an existing school.

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It’s no coincidence, by the way, that much of West Fargo’s recent housing growth has occurred around Sheyenne High. New schools spur development. But more importantly, smaller schools provide better learning environments and extra curricular opportunities for students. Having a very large high school admittedly increases the odds of having a powerhouse hockey or football team. But what about test scores? Moorhead, which has larger elementary and middle schools than its metro counterparts, lags behind Minnesota averages in student performance. Are big schools really the best option?

By sticking to one high school, Moorhead risks having a single location that simply might not best serve a growing city. We’re bullish on Moorhead and its future. We urge school officials to be also. Before continuing on the path toward a “new and improved” single high school, officials should take a serious look at going instead with a second high school.

Editorials represent the views of Forum management and the Editorial Board.