By Jennifer Kotila
DASSEL, COKATO, MN The Dassel-Cokato School Board conceded Wednesday that it would like the district to move forward with building six additional classrooms in order to offer all day, every day (ADED) kindergarten in the district.
A formal decision will be made at a future board meeting regarding the project and how it will be funded, but the board approved a motion to allow the district’s architect, Paul Youngquist of Architects Rego and Youngquist, to begin preliminary work.
The board chose to move forward with the third option of those being considered, which will cost the district approximately $2.3 million.
With this option, two classrooms will be added at Dassel Elementary, and four at Cokato Elementary.
The classrooms at Dassel Elementary School will go on the north side of the building in a space currently covered in black-top.
At Cokato Elementary, the classrooms will be built on the south, two-story side of the building, where the courtyard is now.
This option would allow the district to maintain the community elementary schools with enough space for 220 kindergartners, and also allows space for growth of the district, Charger Kids Club, and community-based preschools.
The least costly of the three options presented to the board was to only build two classrooms at Dassel Elementary at a cost of $721,000.
This option would require the district to split the elementary schools by grade, rather than community, with kindergarten through first attending Dassel Elementary, and second through fourth grade at Cokato Elementary.
A second option was to build two classrooms at Dassel Elementary and three at Cokato Elementary at a cost of $1.83 million.
This would allow the communities to keep the kindergarten through fourth grade elementary schools, but would not provide enough space for growth.
The first option would allow space for 180 kindergarten students; the second, 200.
In recent years, there have been two groups of 200-plus kindergartners coming through the district, Powers noted at Wednesday’s meeting.
Offering families the options of ADED kindergarten or every other day kindergarten would reduce the need for kindergarten classrooms due to the number of families that would only send their children to school every other day, Powers said.
The district sent a survey to 172 families that will have a kindergartner in the district next year, and received 51 percent of the surveys back.
About 37 percent of the families did not want their child attending all day, every day kindergarten and preferred an every other day option; 61 percent would send their child every day; 2 percent would not be sending their child at all.
However, relying on that information and adding only the bare minimum of space needed would not be wise, Powers said, noting the district must be prepared to offer ADED kindergarten to all families in the district.
Any of the options mentioned would create a transportation cost of $71,000 per year for the district to provide additional routes to get students to and from school.
The first option of only adding classrooms at Dassel and splitting the schools by grade rather than by community creates an additional transportation cost of $50,000 to shuttle the students between Cokato and Dassel.
A study conducted by the district several years ago in regards to growth in the area’s population was brought up several times throughout the discussion Wednesday.
School Board Member Richard Tormanen noted the study showed the district will need to add a pre-kindergarten through kindergarten building at the high school campus in the near future to provide enough space for the growth in population.
If that were to occur, he noted the district will still have the need for additional space at the elementary schools, and it made sense to build those classrooms now.
Powers pointed out that the study included additional classroom space at the elementary schools, along with a new pre-kindergarten through kindergarten building at the high school campus.
He also noted the daycare crisis that is occurring in the community at this time, and the difficulties working families are having finding appropriate childcare.
DC Early Childhood Programs Coordinator Jane Ryan was in attendance at the meeting, and said having preschool at the high school campus at this time is becoming more and more of an inconvenience for families.
The main concern with preschool at the high school campus is lack of transportation for students. Preschool is offered from 9 to 11:30 a.m., and many parents work at that time.
There are programs in the area that offer daycare and preschool, so children only have to walk down the hall from their daycare room to attend preschool, Ryan noted.
Adding six classrooms to the elementary schools may allow enough space to provide daycare and preschool in each building, which will alleviate the need for transportation, according to district administration.
Financing the project
The district is planning to pay for part of the project by spending down the general unreserved fund by $1 million, and the capital fund by $500,000.
The remaining $800,000 will be financed by the district over a period of either five or 10 years, with no penalties for early payment.
Either option allows the district to maintain the general fund balance and capital fund balance at the policy level set by the board without having to ask taxpayers to approve a building referendum.
However, with the five-year option, the capital fund balance would be as low as $1.251 million in 2018-19; the 10-year option allows a capital fund balance of $1.659 million in 2018-19, and $1.802 million in 2023-24 at the end of the finance period.
Powers noted the numbers are only projections, and there may be capital projects within the time period of the financing that will affect the ending balance.
He also informed the board he preferred financing over a 10 year period.
If the district were to ask taxpayers to support a building referendum for a project such as this, every acre of agricultural land would be taxed.
By financing the project in this way, Powers said the taxpayers were getting the best bang for their buck since it is funded through the general and capital fund which only taxes the home and one acre of agricultural land.