Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, May 24, 1999

LP school board gets status report, staff survey results

By Luis Puga

Professor Prudence Gushwa presented two reports to the Lester Prairie school board at its regular meeting Monday.

The first was a status report with a brief summary of the planning sessions held with the public on May 5, 6, 10, and 11.

The report also describes the process the district should take in its long range planning.

Up to this point, the district's "vision" has been established in the planning sessions. The suggestions made to the board from those sessions are its "mission objectives."

The district will now need to do a needs assessment to establish its current status and create a management plan to breach the gap between its current status and its vision. The report recommends setting yearly goals.

The status report also includes information compiled by architect Walter Cheever on the condition of the facility.

Cheever grades the 83,040 square feet of the school as "exceptionally well maintained." He feels that the average age of the building, excluding the community center, is 31 years.

On safety, he thought the overall building posed no serious issues. He did question whether using the community center's basement as storage is safe due to the fact that storage areas in general are regarded as less safe by building officials. The community center is actually a house adjacent to the main school facility.

Cheever also thought the school's site was too small and too close to traffic on Hickory and Fir street. He noted that closing off Second Avenue "creates an ambiguous situation" in terms of safety for loading and unloading students from buses.

Gushwa noted that she was gratified to hear there have been no accidents due to these issues.

Cheever also took issue with teenage drivers and young children in the school area. However, he noted that a positive factor was that the streets were residential.

In terms of being an adequate site as an educational environment, Cheever said the location was lacking. He wrote that for a school that size, the size should be 26 acres, while it is only 10.7, including the athletic fields.

Cheever said the space is used well, but is a serious problem for the future.

He noted that having the study hall in the front lobby, full capacity elementary classes, and the need for specialized education rooms for science and art classes are symptoms of the space problem.

Cheever also wrote that 10 more pupils in the elementary school would bring those classrooms to 100 percent utilization. For the high school, he wrote that the average utilization is 93 percent, a number which he feels is too high.

However, Cheever did indicate that the building is structurally sound, but noted that the windows on the west side of the building should be replaced.

He also recommended replacing the east side entrance to improve aesthetics and some finishes on the floor in the older part of the building.

Cheever did offer up some preliminary costs for renovating and building. The figures are, of course, estimations at best since no plan for the futurehas yet been formulated.

On a new building, he estimated that a new 4,400 gross square feet elementary school for 400 students would cost about $3,300,000. The land would cost approximately $45,000. The cost to remodel the existing building would be about $40,000.

Other options included expanding to the north and south. The south expansion was regarded as being too little to solve any space problems.

To the north, the school could expand over one private house and the community center. The cost would be somewhere between $3,002,000 to $3,486,000. Replacing the community center would cost $143,000. Again, all of these figures should be considered estimations.

Staff survey

Gushwa submitted a staff survey to the board. Sixty-three percent of the staff participated.

The staff was asked to grade the school and gave the total school a B-, with the elementary receiving a B+, the secondary B-, and the non-certified staff support a B.

Gushwa's analysis of the survey indicated that the staff had "more progressive than traditional beliefs about how schools should prepare students" for the future through the curriculum.

She also said that the staff were favorable to the idea of a new facility. They also favored open enrollment and partnering with another school.

However, there was no strong indication that they would like to pair with the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted district.

The faculty also expressed a concern with decision-making in the district, adding that they did not "believe the administrators were providing leadership for change."

Of the community at large, Gushwa wrote, "[The] faculty perceived the community has a favorable view of the school, but is unwilling to provide greater financial support for the schools."

They added that graduates need to be encouraged to stay in Lester Prairie and that the city needs more housing.

Overall, the staff did support the school's growth and change. The question the board posed to Gushwa was whether the community at large shared that same sentiment.

Throughout her study, Gushwa has interviewed community members and business leaders. Coupled with those who came to the public sessions, the board has had input from about 110 community members who indicate that they would support the district's growth and a new facility in Lester Prairie.

The board asked Gushwa whether this was a representative attitude of the whole population. Gushwa replied that the fact that more "nay-sayers" did not show up to the meeting was a positive. However, she added that the rural and township populations have not been well represented.

Open enrollment

The board discussed the implications of its open enrollment policy. While the majority of the board felt the open enrollment should be encouraged, board member Barry Kyllo thought that some limits should be set.

He felt that open enrollment may be contributing to a space problem. He added that it discourages people from moving to Lester Prairie since they can just enroll their kids into the district's school from outside the district.

Noting that the school was the city's best asset, he said, "We're giving it away." He added that other district have put limits on open enrollment.

However, board chair Gene Starke said that if the school begins to refuse open enrollment students, it would have to close the school in two years. He noted that the issue was not considered a problem at the public sessions.

Kyllo felt that open enrollment was not even brought up at the sessions.

Other board members added that the number of open enrollment students going in equals those going out. Board member Nancy Krull added that lack of available housing poses a problem to people who would like to move to Lester and added that there are only two lots available in the city.

Starke ended the discussion by saying that if Kyllo did not support open enrollment, he should not vote for it.

Then he added, "About eight to 10 years ago, we screwed up big time. Silver Lake admits it, Winsted admits it, and I'll admit it. And it was because the people of Lester Prairie had too much damn pride that they wouldn't allow their high school to go somewhere else." He then said that the board should move on to another topic.

Coincidently, the next topic was the approval of one open enrollment student coming in and three going out for the '99-00 school year. The motion was passed with Kyllo voting against it.

Other business . . .

­ The board passed a motion to stay in the Minnesota State High School League.

­ The administration was authorized to work with the staff on the school calendar. Some changes may need to be made if the legislature requires a minimum of school days greater than those allotted in the calendar as it stands.

­ The district will join the Service CO-OP for $3,063. The membership will allow the district to access special education materials and additional training for staff. About half of the cost could be paid by the state.

­ Contracts for the baseball and golf coaches were approved. Starke expressed a desire to have the contracts signed before the season begins.

­ LaVonne Guenigsman will retire at the end of the year from her position as cook/manager for the district. She has been with the district for 20 years. The board commended her on her excellent work for the district.

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