LITTLE FALLS -- Closing S.G. Knight Elementary School in Randall, cutting more extracurricular activities and making third- through 12th-graders walk to school if they live within two miles are a few of the proposals the Little Falls School District is looking at to cut expenses.
Close to 300 people attended a Little Falls School Board meeting Wednesday to discuss the district's options. The school board is discussing three proposals that would save the district nearly $1 million to $1.5 million in the 2002-2003 budget.
The school board expects to make a final decision on a proposal by the end of March.
In a nutshell, there are about $186,000 cuts at the high school level, $276,000 at the middle school level, $273,000 in the administrative area and between $271,000 to $749,000 at the elementary level.
One of the main issues the audience weighed in on was the proposed transportation cuts. The district is proposing to only transport students in third grade and up who live more than two miles away from their school building. The rest of the students would have to walk or find another way to get to school.
"This would make my children walk across town. This really upsets me," said Mary Bednarek of Little Falls who has an 8-year-old and a 5-year-old. "I don't want to be the next Patty Wetterling."
Andy Galston, who works for the district's bus service, said having students walk two miles can be physically dangerous, especially with the Mississippi River and railroad crossings.
"Two miles is a long way for a third-grader," he added. "How many times will a third-grader get lost or get distracted and play in a snow bank?"
Galston also said this situation would have more students drive to school. With more students driving to school, the parking lots and streets would be chaotic, he said.
Mike Hennek, also with the bus service, said buses are safer than having teen-agers driving their own vehicles and students on a bus are supervised by an adult.
Lisa Allen of Little Falls said she conducted a survey in regard to closing the Randall elementary school. She said 76 out of 153 people responded. Of those who responded, only one parent would have their child attend Lincoln Elementary School if Knight closes and the rest would send their children to other school districts, she said.
Mary and Erik Warner have three children at Knight and said the district could keep the school open and generate other revenue, such as establishing the school as a charter school, fund-raising efforts and collecting donations for supplies and equipment.
Erik Warner added that the school board needs to look at what the students need, not want.
"Want and need are different. Some we cannot do without, such as buildings and staff," he said. "I want students to have extracurricular activities, but they are a want, not a need."
Michelle Drong, a Knight supporter, asked why the elementary schools are always the target of cuts. Last year the district cut 22 teaching positions at the elementary level. Drong also questioned the cost the district estimated it would save by closing the school, which is about $530,000.
"The reality is we need to pass a referendum," she said. "A K through sixth configuration could also solve a lot of problems."
James Oberton said he attended Knight as a child. He said if the district closes the school, students would be forced to ride about two and a half hours a day on the school bus. This would be tougher on the younger students, he said.
Oberton also asked the school board whether it is looking at all the costs that are associated with closing the school.
"Just because you can't put the cost on paper doesn't mean it's not there," he said.
Shelley LeBlanc and Kent Gomez, gymnastic coaches in the district, came to support extracurricular activities and said there are many ways the district could save money in this area. LeBlanc said she would take two vans to out-of-town meets instead of a bus, which would save money. She said she would also reduce the number of non-conference meets.
Julie Bell, soccer coach, agreed with the coaches. She said the district should look at how to save all sports and not eliminate one over another. The sports that are being proposed to be cut are boys' and girls' soccer, Nordic skiing, gymnastics and boys' swimming.
Jan Roache will see her seventh child graduate this year from Little Falls and said all her children talk about is extracurricular activities.
"Education is important, but studies show that being in an activity helps kids become more well-rounded," she said.
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