Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, March 22, 1999

More discussion on LP school future

By Luis Puga

A presentation about the Lester Prairie school's future and development was part of last Monday's school board meeting.

Prudence Gushwa, a professor at Minnesota State University at Mankato, updated the council on a study she has been conducting for the district. The data she has collected, through research and interviews, is raw and preliminary, but was presented to give the board as a preview of the report.

Gushwa's preliminary information included census information showing that the school district is estimated to increase by .5 percent in 1999 to 2000. These do not include open enrollment students.

In the past, that population has decreased in 1970-80 and 1980-90 by 10.2 and 10.4 percent respectively.

The state shows an estimated increase of 10.6 percent, McLeod County up to 8.7 percent, and the surrounding cities such as Winsted, Plato, Glencoe, and Silver Lake at 9.3 percent.

A general decrease was noted across the grades for enrollment in 1998-2003.

However, she said the pre-school census may not be accurate since it is difficult to assess who will be born in the future. This data does include all enrollments.

Given those qualifiers, a large decrease of 32.35 percent was noted for the kindergarten enrollment in 1998-2003.

The board asked Gushwa to separate the open enrollment students from the district students so it can try to find out why open enrollment students are choosing to come and stay at Lester Prairie.

Board members also asked for an overview of their curriculum and offerings to see if they meet the needs of students for the futures.

Board member Barry Kyllo said he would also like to know if the district is too small to provide an appropriate curriculum.

Gushwa said that there are ways and techniques to accommodate programs for a school that small such as multi-grade learning or extending the school year.

Of the facilities, she said the building has a life of about 40 additional years. She indicated that the facility is limited due to its landlocked position in the city and the long-range plans should take that into consideration.

She noted that the high school's specialty rooms are in good c;ondition and the staff is utilized well as there is no travel time between buildings.

She said that the weakness lies in students being taught in "unusual" places of the building that are not designed for modern technology and service programs. She also noted the enrollment (249th largest out 378 districts) as a weakness as well.

Gushwa outlined options for the district. Consolidation was an option the district had.

Also, she suggested pairing just the high school program while keeping the middle school and elementary school.

Gushwa suggested expanding the building to the north, which would require demolishing two houses. The advantage would be to keep the school in one building, but grading would be required, as well as an additional boiler and construction of a new ECFE site.

Another option would be to expand to a new site making the current location a community center in a decade or less. She said that such an expansion should begin with a elementary school and grow gradually from there.

The fifth option would be to do nothing, since the future holds fewer students, according to the current preschool census.

She did say that data was questionable and that "the long-range predictions for suburban sprawl to Lester Prairie are real."

Some discussion took place on getting public input on these options. Gushwa said she has watched districts make these decisions before and it needs to be a grass roots effort, with plenty of public input.

However, the board lamented that developing such input was difficult and past experiences have had little attendance.

The board thought that past input has indicated that the public wants to keep the school in the city, but questioned if the public would be willing to pay more taxes for that.

Gushwa recommended holding multiple meetings with the public and staff in attendance. This would include presentations from committees and program directors in the school. She said if even a few people are informed of the school's needs and the true information, they will distribute it by word of mouth on their own.

She also mentioned that it makes it easier for the board to make a decision because public input is involved. This makes the board free to act without worrying about public reprimands due to an unpalatable decisions.

She also said that a cross section of the population will probably not attend the meetings; just those who are concerned enough to attend.

The board also went over comments members have heard from the public.

Kyllo said he did not get as much input as he would like, and heard comments on how the same amount of money used in consolidating and building a new high school could be used in their own district.

Chairperson Gene Starke said he has been in contact with the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted Long Range Planning Task Force and the HLWW superintendent on the matter.

Chester Hoernemann said that the common thread in the comments he heard is a call for action on a referendum and pursuing a new building in the district.

Board member Fred Blaser said the few comments he has heard have been to keep the school in Lester Prairie.

Kyllo did say when the numbers for the expenditure comes through that the public needs to know that those figures don't include costs of increasing operations or programs in a new building.

After asked from Kyllo, Supt. James Redfield explained his comments about unpairing Winsted from Howard Lake to form a new district with Lester Prairie.

He said, "From a political point of view, I am not going to answer that very much." He did say that such a maneuver is very complicated, more so than pairing, but the board shouldn't go into detail about that process.

He said if other districts are interested in the option, they should consult their superintendents and school boards. He did maintain that it can be done.


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