Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, June 26, 2000

LP school to look for possible consolidation partner

By Jane Otto

"At that point in time, a k-12 school was to stay in town," said Lester Prairie School Board Member Gene Starke at the board's meeting last Monday.

It was the discussion of the board's mission statement and how to accomplish that mission in a k-12 setting that prompted Starke to speak.

He said that the school's financial situation has changed since the board last discussed its mission statement in March. Accomplishing this in a k-12 setting may no longer be feasible, Starke said.

"It has always been my standpoint to look at other options. But, I don't want to get railroaded into something in a short amount of time. . . I think it will take a full year or more to study all options.

"Either consolidation or cooperation, or whatever you want to do . . . I think we should get a committee started as soon as possible to look at the situations, and we'll go from there," Starke said.

At that point, it seemed appropriate to board Chair Chester Hoernemann to introduce Roger Worner.

Worner, a consultant for the past 10 years, works with "school districts facing a critical juncture in their lives."

That, he said, could be a district that is looking at constructing a new building, has just lost a referendum, or is considering consolidation.

"We have lots of information, but we don't know what the best direction is," said Hoernemann.

Supt. James Redfield said that Lester Prairie would like to study five nearby districts ­ Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted, Glencoe-Silver Lake, Watertown-Mayer, Norwood Young America, and Hutchinson ­ and what situation would work best for Lester Prairie.

Worner said that he would gather information from the districts as a independent third party.

He would look at the quality, demographics, birth rate, financing, staff, facilities the nuances of all those, as well as the hopes and expectations of the board and staff of those districts.

The study would take approximately four months, said Worner.

However, he said, that is based on the "willingness of the other districts, but that in his experience he can't imagine a school district around that would not talk or provide the needed data."

Worner also suggested that the board notified the Department of Children, Families and Learning (CFL) that it plans to partake in a study with these school districts and ask for CFL's cooperation.

"We're a little bit ahead of the cart," said Redfield.

He told Worner that the district is looking at sometime after the first of the year, preferably March for a completed study.

With the estimated cost of the study at $7,500 plus expenses, Redfield asked Worner if other districts might be willing to share in the costs.

"The hope is that the state will participate in cost sharing," said Worner.

The board told Worner it would notify him after July 4 as to whether or not it will have him proceed with a study.

At a later point, Blaser said, "$10,000 is an awful lot of money to put out when we did an awful lot of cutting a couple of weeks ago."

Blaser said that he would really like to see the other districts share in the costs.

All the districts could benefit from this, said Redfield.

"Districts could look at the total picture of the whole area," he said. "There are a whole lot of things we can do besides consolidate and still benefit from that study ­ I think."

"A large piece of that would be finding out who they are and telling them who we are, to start with" said Hoernemann. "We're talking about some time, I hope, I they don't want to rush into this."

"I don't think anyone wants you to rush," said parent Doug Bebo. "I think a lot of people want us to set a start date."

"This is true," said Hoernemann. "But, we need to focus on what our job is here and that is, educating our kids and keeping our teachers doing that."

In the meantime, a committee will be organized, consisting of two board members ­ Barry Kyllo and Bob Remer, administration, two union members, two non-certified staff, and two community members from the leadership team,

The first task of the committee will be to compose a letter to notify the districts concerned of its intentions.

Discussion ensued about whether the letter should come from the district, Worner, or the state. Hoernemann said that that will be something for the committee to decide.

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