Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, Oct. 11, 1999

Final report on long range planning presented for LP

By Luis Puga

Professor Purdence Gushwa of Minnesota State University, Mankato opened Tuesday's meeting by stating that her time in Lester Prairie, working with people in the district to gather data, had been a positive experience and a pleasure in general.

The meeting was held for Gushwa to present her final long range planning report to the public and the school board. She noted the district's commitment to keeping the school and called the decision a logical one.

Gushwa went on to describe how the district has a good reputation, evidenced by the amount of open enrollment that comes into the district.

She also indicated that generally she has perceived support for the proposal to build a new elementary school and a community center.

According to Gushwa, the next step on a possible bonding issue would be to get the state involved via the Department of Children, Families, and Learning.

She also recommended that the district contact both bonding and architectural firms so that the public could begin to hear about costs for the proposal.

She then opened the floor for questions.

Redfield asked about the suggestion in her report that more groups should be invited to future meetings.

Gushwa replied that it's "hard for a school to plan alone."

Her report suggests annual meetings between the school, city, businesses, public, county, and any other interested partners to set a "vision" or goal for the district.

Vice Chairperson Barry Kyllo asked how the district would be able to convince voters to build a new facility, if enrollment is declining, as evidenced in her report.

Gushwa noted that her figures do not include open enrollment students, and a district can only know for certain of those kids that are born. She noted those figures would grow as the city grows, but said of housing, that the occasional house will not attract a young family as well as a planned development.

Rather, she said a development, most likely with town houses available to rent or to buy, would attract young families.

She dubbed the living environment in Lester Prairie very healthy and noted the attraction of having fewer building restrictions than the metro area as a plus.

Of the curriculum, she said the school had a solid foundation. She did note some lack in technology, but added that children in a district with limitless choices would not have enough hours in the day for every class they wanted.

Rather, Gushwa felt that it is more important to have encouraging teachers who would help kids go deeper into the material, if need be.

Gushwa pointed out how the drive to build larger schools has decreased from the state level. She said Minnesota has begun to recognize that parents prefer small settings.

Gushwa did comment on the levy when asked. She said that it was important to communicate that a vote yes for the levy was a vote for the school.

Gushwa's report is available at the school's library for interested readers.

Levy information

Discussion then turned to concerns over the upcoming 10-year excess levy referendum to be voted on in November. Questions were fielded by the board.

In general, the board emphasized that the levy was for additional operating costs, not for building.

This included costs for operating the building and paying the staff. Redfield said costs have been on the rise over the past 10 to 15 years, while the state has only raised its aid only once over that period of time.

The board reiterated that the district is in the bottom 5 percent of school districts in size and was one of the few districts in the area without an excess levy.

Redfield said, "There's nothing excess about it," and noted the increase in levy was needed to keep up with other schools in programs and offerings.

Board Member Chester Hoernemann added that the school used to have about $350,000 in the bank, but was forced by the state to spend that money, effectively eliminating the district's cushion.

Technology was touched upon by Board Member Fred Blaser, who pointed out the 266 Megahertz computers in the library are too slow for current standards.

Hoernemann commented that the district has to be somewhat competitive in salaries because of its proximity to the metro area.

Some questions concerned the possible bonding issue that is expected two to three years from now.

Redfield said that would have to be almost all local effort, unlike the levy that is matched two to one from the state.

He added that he did not want the district to build without having the operating expenses, and that the state might not approve a new building if the district did not have the resources to run it.

The referendum increase was generally described as not a lot of money. The rate of $415 was noted as being the maximum the state would match. It was added that the district would receive additional monies from the state because of the amount of open enrollment students, about $25,000.

The board also stated that it cannot sell the referendum by encouraging people to vote yes. Such a campaign cannot use district monies either.

Rather, the board called for volunteers to talk with Kyllo and Blaser, who are helping organize citizens into such a group.

One audience member noted that one thing everyone could do is send a letter to the editor regarding the issue.

The school board will host another informational meeting on the levy Tuesday, Oct. 19, the first evening of parent/teacher conferences.

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