Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, May 17, 1999

LP consensus: keep school district independent

By Luis Puga

The Lester Prairie School Board got an answer to the question of how to proceed into the future.

At a series of meetings in the past two weeks, the board and Prudence Gushwa, a professor of education from Minnesota State University in Mankato, have played host to 60 to 70 concerned citizens.

The purpose of the meetings was to reach some sort of consensus on how the Lester Prairie school district should handle its future.

Currently, the school faces space issues with students meeting in unconventional areas of the building. The board is also proposing a bond issue for additional local monies.

Finally, the board has a standing offer from Howard-Lake-Waverly-Winsted (HLWW) to consolidate the two districts, and to build a new high school.

These are some of the issues that the meeting's attendees discussed.

Last week, in brainstorming sessions, the board received ideas on how to keep the district independent, including a proposal to buy land and build a community center.

On Monday, attendees were broken into groups and it was estimated that about 30 people attended. The groups were assigned the task of reaching a consensus and reporting back to the overall group the next evening.

Group results

Gushwa noted that the most evident consensus was to keep the school district independent.

Also, general consensus seems to indicate that space problems should be alleviated by building a new elementary school in Lester Prairie.

Gushwa said that she saw that the groups felt the reason to build was not just because of space issues alone, but also because it is an educationally sound decision.

Given that, she recommended that the next step is to design an elementary program that will last for the next 40 years. She also noted, as one group leader had expressed, that the solution had to be long term and not a "Band-Aid" approach.

In terms of the numbers for the future, she said that nobody can perfectly predict population growth.

"We try to estimate with what we know of fertility rates, of what we know of in-migration to the state or community, and we do the best we can," she said.

She added that you can't be certain of any prediction greater than five years.

Gushwa then asked the audience to come up with its ideal situation for the future: "What's our vision? Who are we going to be?"

From there, she said, the district would assess where it is at, and see what it has to do to fill the gap between a vision and reality.

Recommendations to the board

By the end of the meeting, audience members had come up with 25 recommendations to the board.

They included keeping the school in Lester Prairie, a modest tax increase, keeping the district independent, buying a land investment for all future building, and exploring funding for partnering facilities with the city.

Other recommendations included improving programming on all grade levels, academically orientated extra-curriculars, and focus on a wider spectrum of students including those who are struggling and those who might be gifted.

Facility suggestions included having separate libraries for the high school and elementary, and many suggestions for community access, from a senior center to access to the media center and gym.

Gushwa also asked the audience members to take what they had learned at the meetings, and spread the message to the rest of the community.

She suggested that two to three attendees get together, and explain to groups of people what transpired at the meeting.

It was also suggested that articles should be written in the paper, and that perhaps information could be relayed on cable access as well.

Consolidation

The question of what to tell the HLWW school district about consolidation brought some debate to the meeting.

One attendee thought the possibility should be kept open, saying that there are few options left for the district.

Others thought that the answer should be a definite no.

It was also said that the HLWW district would like an answer soon.

School board member Chester Hoernemann felt that the district had too many options and was not progressing in its decision making. "We've got so many options in front going for us, we're going to lose sight of what we should really be doing," he said.

One attendee said that he felt the city council should help in keeping the school in the city and "do everything within its power to make this school work (in Lester Prairie)."

He went on to say, "I think a lot of people are going to be very disappointed; I know I am going to be disappointed if this school moves. If I have to bus my kids to another school, I am going to be looking at other options."

He finished by saying that the city council should push the board to keep the school here, to which the audience responded with applause.

Council member and school liaison Rollie Bruckschen responded to the comment by saying that the council supports keeping the school here. He added that the business community and community organizations must also show their support and get involved in the process as well.

It was also added that the whole district, including the rural areas, need to be included in the planning process.

Gushwa concluded, "In the late 1990s, as we are moving into the new century, we are finding that when a community is as strong as you are and has sense of direction for your region, it doesn't matter if your school is as large as the average size or median size school district. There are small strong schools, and parents today want their school near them."

Gushwa wrapped up the meeting by encouraging audience members to take the momentum they gained at the meeting and talk to others in the community.


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