Northern Minnesota schools face potential closure due to distance, district decisions

Leaders of a northern Minnesota school district have a tough decision on their hands, with two K-12 schools that are about 80 miles apart.

But now, ISD #363 says it can’t afford to keep both schools open, and the impending closure of one school could send students to another that is hours away.

In March, four of the six South Koochiching-Rainy River School board members voted to close K-12 school Indus in Baudette next year.

At a public hearing on Monday night, families shared their thoughts about the decision. Indus is one of two schools in their rural, isolated and spread out district.

But now, with its future in question because of significant budget shortfalls brought on by declining enrollment, students may be sent to the district's Northome school.

"I live approximately two hours away from the Northome school, so that means I would commute four hours a day to go there," Indus 11th grader Abbi Hasbargen told FOX 9 on Tuesday.

Hasbargen is a fourth generation Indus student, and she attended Monday’s hearing. 

"All the emotions, anger, sadness, all at once just hit me," Hasbargen said. "It’s very unknown, there’s not much communication about this at all."

If Indus is closed, teachers with seniority could keep jobs at Northome. 

However, industrial technology teacher Soren Olesen would likely lose his. And he says even if his job is saved, Northome is too far away.

"Between the two schools, it’s 82 miles, I believe, from one school to the other school," Olesen said. "It’s tough to see kids going through all this stuff… they want an education, and it’s hard to educate people when they’re worried about tomorrow."

The students impacted also have the option to open enroll in other school districts closer by, but for many, even those options are still more than an hour’s drive away. 

Olesen also described other concerns from parents, saying, "taxpayers would still be paying money to the school district on a school that’s 100 miles away."

State Senator Grant Hauschild has received enough complaints to take action.

"I want to make it very clear that I am not trying to get involved in a local school board decision," Hauschild said. "But what I am trying to do is use my legislative ability to try to get the funding that we can to this area, to see if we might keep this school open… we asked the school board to hold off on their decision to close Indus until they know more about the funding that’s going to be coming from the Legislature in May."

Families in the district say they hope their leaders will walk back the decision at a meeting next week.

FOX 9 reached out to district’s school board chair, vice chair, clerk, superintendent and Indus’ principal, but as of Tuesday night, they did not respond. 

Click here to learn more about the effort to save Indus.