Herald and Journal, June 25, 2001

LP board holds open forum on consolidation

By Patrice Waldron

The public was given a chance to let its voice be heard when an open forum took place prior to last Monday's Lester Prairie School Board meeting.

The biggest issue facing the district is the idea of consolidating with another school district.

An informational meeting took place June 14 between the Lester Prairie cooperation committee and representatives from the Glencoe-Silver Lake school district.

Another meeting took place Thursday between the school boards and city councils from Lester Prairie, Howard Lake, Waverly, and Winsted (See separate story).

"You still have to convince me that the best option will be consolidation," said Fred Blaser, Lester Prairie School Board member.

"If it's a matter of cost, we could just vote an additional levy referendum, get that up as high as we can, and pay more for what we provide here, and provide more, because we are raising more funds," said Chester Hoernemann, LP school board member.

"It all goes back to funding and what we as parents want to contribute to the district," said Hoernemann.

The question of growth in Lester Prairie was mentioned, with the idea of a joint use facility given as a solution to the need for more space, if the facility was built near enough to the present school.

The facility could be built with rooms which could double as classroom space.

The number of children added to the district as a result of the new housing developments in Lester Prairie, was, conservatively estimated at one per household.

Sixty children over a period of seven years was the estimate of Gene Starke, Lester Prairie School Board chairman.

"Priming the pump is what it's going to take in this community. Put a little water in, in order to get a lot of water," said Blaser.

"Even if you assume, pick a number, that you're going to get 'x' growth. Then let's say that, as a group, we figure out, can we cover that? So, let's say we now have 600 -plus kids here, what can we do facility wise?" asked Kyllo.

"Can we, as a community, pass a bond, and what's our bond capacity.? Can we build a 4 million dollar elementary school?" continued Kyllo.

"Is there a limit that you can't bond yourself past a certain limit? I don't know the answer to that, but if it is, then we're at a point where we can't build what we need if we'd have growth, and shouldn't we be working with someone else to have a larger tax base?" said Kyllo.

"No matter what happens, if we don't get any students or if we get a lot of growth, Lester Prairie School District has to change," said Blaser

"We have to decide what the best way to change is," said Blaser.

"You have to look at all the options, because no matter where you go I don't think that you as taxpayers are going to get by with keeping the level where it is. Whether you keep the school here, whether you repair, whether you put up a joint use facility, taxes will go up," said Blaser.

The question was raised about having a well-rounded offering of extracurricular activities for students to choose from.

In the five years that he has been with the district, Supt. James Redfield pointed out that there has been an increase in the participation in the speech and drama programs.

Fewer students have taken part in choir but the number of students in band stabilized.

"If you have a program which has fallen, not what it used to be, you don't rebuild it in a year," said board member Nancy Krull.

"Even if we say tonight that we want to consolidate, it's not going to happen for awhile, so we still have to focus on programs that we have and continue to build them," said Krull.

"Some way, we have to say what we want to be. The whole community, say 70 percent, to say, this is what we want to be. That's what I look for," said Kyllo. Look for a mandate from the community.

This spring, we had talk sessions with school staff members, called meet and confer. The response, consistently, was, that we should try to be the best small school that we can, explained Redfield.

"All of these things would be nice, but I'm still waiting for someone to come out and clearly say; my student is doing better and is better off, there are more choices, they are happier, because we are bigger." said Hoernemann.

"I don't think I'd want to take away anyone's opportunity to compete," said Joe Miller, dean of students.

Miller argued, from his 28 years of experience in Lester Prairie, that it is just as valuable to have the chance to be a part of the team as it is to be on a competitive team.

Redfield posed the questions to the school board members:

· if we continue to operate at a k-12 school, are we going to strive to be the best we possibly can?

· why would anyone want to consolidate with Lester Prairie? What do they see in it for them? Do they want it for the students, or do they want it to improve their/our curriculum?

· what's going to be different if we consolidate?

"How do we make ourselves financially solvent from year to year? What's the magic number of students? How many kids do we really need to effectively operate in today's funding mechanism from the state?" asked Kyllo.

"Somebody, somewhere must have studied that," Kyllo added.

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