CELEBRATING 50 YEARS OF ROCORI
Earlier in the year, I shared some information about the early years of the ROCORI School District. At the recent Community Showcase, the ROCORI School Board had a booth that included a “quiz” about the ROCORI Schools. The Showcase event encouraged me to return to some elements of ROCORI’s 50 year history!
ROCORI AREA SCHOOLS—EARLY HISTORY
Much of the early history of the district was captured by the first superintendent of schools, William J. Virant. He gathered a lot of information in a book called, ROCORI Area Schools: Early History. The book was published in December, 1997.
I find the book to contain some fascinating bits of history about the conditions in the 1960s and the events that led to the formation of the ROCORI Schools.
The first few pages of the book briefly review the history of education in the United States. A favorite quotation of mine, which provides much of the reason for public schools, is cited at the outset. Virant quoted Thomas Jefferson who said, “For a Democracy to survive, it requires an educated populace.”
The opening of the book talks about the formation of the first schools, the authority of states to create schools, and the process in Minnesota to create schools. The introduction concludes with “the common school district was geared to teaching the ‘3 R’s’ to students in grades 1-8.”
The history book spends considerable time reviewing the many different school districts that served the region in the early to mid 1960s. I will share pieces of the history to simplify some of the consolidation process that occurred to create School District 750—the ROCORI Schools.
“Cold Spring School District No. 1923 was a closed school district…All but twelve of the children in the school district attended St. Boniface Grade School, grades 1-8, in the 1965-66 school year. Children who chose to attend public school were transported to John Clark School in Rockville. Most of the high school students from Cold Spring and Richmond attended St. Boniface High School, grades 9-12. Students from Cold Spring who opted to attend public secondary schools enrolled in St. Cloud while students from Richmond enrolled in Eden Valley or Albany.
“A series of meetings was arranged with neighboring common school districts in the Cold Spring area to discuss the Closed School Law and to attempt to develop a consolidation plat…As consolidation meetings and hearings continued, a strong concern that surfaced was whether it was possible to establish a sound educational system where a public school and St. Boniface High School could function in concert to achieve the goal…
ROADBLOCKS TO THE ORGANIZATION
A committee worked “toward establishing a K-9 Associated School District. St. Boniface Grade School would drop grades 7-8; St. Boniface High School would discontinue grade 9 and operate as a senior high school, grades 10-12; and the public school would furnish ‘shared time’ programs for St. Boniface High School. (St. Boniface Grade School dropped grades 7 and 8 at the end of the 1966-67 school year and became a 1-6 elementary school.)
This approach, however, was soon thwarted by the State Department of Education explained Virant. Ultimately, the Department of Education offered support to public school settings that strengthened plans for serving students in grades Kindergarten through 12.
In addition to the challenges presented by the Department, the initial plans met other difficulties. Virant explained that there were financial issues and concerns in the funding processes for St. Boniface High School as the school was operating at a deficit affecting several local parishes.
The other challenge was described as “gerrymandering” of borders with Kimball and Eden Valley. Kimball and Eden Valley had existing public schools. A corridor south of St. Nicholas prevented Watkins from becoming part of the new public school district. A similar corridor south of Richmond required families in that area to become part of the Eden Valley schools.
“In spite of this setback, District 2065 (predecessor to 750) made a decision to proceed with consolidation efforts and to begin planning to build a high school…The school board chose a 60 acre site north of Cold Spring between County Road 50 and County Road 51.
“In December, 1966 the State Department of Education assigned School District No. 2065 Independent Elementary classification with a new number: School District No. 749. A special school election was held and the following were elected: Dr. Stewart C. Ellis, Clarence Leither, Ignatius Lutgen, Jerome Kollmannn, Fred E.Stein, and J. J. Willenbring.
“When the Minnesota Legislature assembled in 1967, there was a strong movement underway to speed up consolidation of schools in the state…House File No. 156…called for common school districts to consolidate with a district maintaining elementary and secondary school—yet another hurdle facing local consolidation efforts.”
Several meetings among regional leaders and a special meeting with the Minnesota Commissioner of Education, Duane Mattheis, were conducted. The essence of the meetings indicated that efforts should be directed to strengthen K-12 school districts and that the Department supported fewer districts not more.
CREATION OF DISTRICT 750
“The meeting with Mattheis set the stage for a meeting with the school boards of Cold Spring District 749 and Richmond District 747. The boards met in joint session in March 1967 to discuss the consolidation of the two school districts…Subsequently, voters turned out in record numbers to cast their ballots for the formation of School District No. 750. The vote was 92 percent in favor.”
While local voters were approving the consolidation, Virant explained that the state legislature approved Chapter 833—House File 156 on May 24, 1967. of the new board members met with Commissioner Mattheis on June 9.
URGENCY TO OPERATE
“Commissioner Mattheis literally bounced into the meeting and made it clear at the onset that Chapter 833 would preclude further consolidation—UNLESS—School District No. 750 operates a K-12 school district by the start of the 1967-68 school term. The District representatives stated, without hesitation, that they would comply…
“The School District 750 Board, in June following the meeting with the Commissioner, voted to organize a K-12 unit beginning with the 1967-68 school term. Administrators were hired: William Virant, Superintendent of Schools, Merel Hough, High School Principal; Robert Martinson, Assistant High School Principal and Athletic Direcotr; and J. Nic Demuth, Elementary Principal.
“A special school election was held on June 27 for a bond issue of $3,200,000 for the purpose of providing money for the acquisition and betterment of school houses. It passed with a 90 percent majority.”
“All or parts of 23 common school districts were finally reorganized to become School District No. 750. The districts were generally referred to for identification by name rather than number. They were:
“Cold Spring, Eisenschenck, Simon, Jacobs Prairie, Rockville, Yankee Road, Pearl Lake, Grand Lake, Gregory, Kneip, Lardy, Frank, St. Nicholas, Drontle, Gross, Richmond, Toborg-Kron, Moeller, Braegelmann, Willenbring-Schlangen-Ramler, Rausch, Schaefer, and Schroder.”
With all of those efforts, the ROCORI School District was organized and became an official public school district in the state of Minnesota. There is more information from the ROCORI AREA SCHOOLS: EARLY HISTORY book that I will share in future articles. This episode, however, helps to explain the concerted efforts at consolidation of the schools that operated in the area in the 1960s.
There was a lot of hard work, lobbying, and political strategy exerted to develop the ROCORI Schools. This district was not alone, at the time. A section of the book explains that the same efforts were happening in Pierz, Sartell and St. Michael. Central Minnesota was one of the last areas in the state with many, many local schools operating—and consolidation brought about larger public school organizations.