Herald JournalHerald Journal, March 7, 2005

LP schools: plan for the worst, hope for the best

By Ryan Gueningsman
Staff Writer

A standing-room-only crowd filled the media center of Lester Prairie Schools Tuesday to provide input and ask questions of the Lester Prairie School Board about the financial state of the district.

Although the board faces having to cut approximately $400,000 from its budget, Board Chairman Fred Blaser assured people present that the “ship isn’t sinking.”

“I don’t think the quality of education is going to change,” Blaser said. He also asked that if people have ideas other than what has been expressed as to where and how cuts should be made, to contact Superintendent Joe Miller.

“We have not made any decisions,” Blaser said at the beginning of the meeting.

Following a question from the audience, Miller said $400,000 is about 10 percent of the budget.

Re-establishing the education foundation

Miller is in the process of contacting all of the original board members of the education foundation, which was created a number of years ago.

Former superintendent James Redfield attempted to revitalize the foundation several years back, but was unable to get a sizable amount of funds in it. Right now, there is about $1,000 in it, Miller noted, also commenting that it has sat dormant for a while and that “no one’s picked up the ball.”

“Some board members don’t even know they’re on the board,” he said.

Letters are going out to the foundation board members, and it is Miller’s hope to get the foundation up and rolling again in order to provide a base place for donations.

Questions and answers

A resident in attendance who lives in the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted school district, but open-enrolls to Lester Prairie, asked what is being done to keep students at Lester Prairie, and to attempt to get students back who have open enrolled out of the district.

“I’ve always wondered why I’ve never gotten a letter from HLWW,” the woman said. Miller said letters are sent out to the parents of students who open enroll out of the district, and there are also other measures taken to try to get the children back in the district.

Keeping elementary class sizes down was a concern of resident Karla Heigl.

“Keep those classes as small as you can,” she said. “If that takes rescheduling, I think we need to look at that seriously.”

A four-day school week was also brought up, and it was noted that no district in the state does that, and Assistant Principal Ron Erpenbach said he has never read anything to support that schedule.

“I think the board should look at what affects our students the least,” commented resident Steve Ziermann.

Eric Angvall encouraged people to try the foreign exchange student program, noting that it is a double-win for the family that has a student in its home.

“That’s a heck of a good experience,” he said. “It’s giving $5,000 to the school.” He also noted the cultural experience received is well worth it.

Contacting legislators was something that was encouraged, and resident Fred Holasek said that when contacting them, try to encourage them to base their funding on a sectional basis, rather than a per pupil unit basis.

The fact that Lester Prairie is not the only school district in the state to be dealing with a shortfall from the state was also discussed, with Blaser noting “this meeting is going on statewide. We’re not alone.”

Even with the budget shortfall, Gov. Tim Pawlenty is proposing an increase in education funding.

“We can’t go cut crazy,” resident Kelli Machmehl said. “We have to count on some of that money coming in (from the state).”

“We, as parents, owe it to our children to support our school in this financial crisis,” said resident MerriLea Kyllo. “We have a small, publicly funded, private school. If we let it fall to nothing, it’s our own fault.”

It was also noted that the community has shown its support for other projects, including the pool restoration and the fire hall, and the question was brought up of why that can’t be done to help the school district.

Erpenbach noted that he is proposing some activity fee increases to become closer to the state average. Corporate sponsorship of things such as a scoreboard and on the fences at ballparks was also discussed, and noted the Minnesota State High School League closely monitors such activities.

The 14-member education foundation will be meeting Tuesday, March 15 at 7:30 p.m. in the school media center, with anyone interested asked to attend.

The next school board meeting will take place Monday, March 21 at 6:30 p.m. at the media center.

“I thought it was a great show of support for our education system,” Miller said after the meeting. “People were pretty encouraging about what they want to see. When you got people – things get done.”


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