BAXTER - What's more important to parents: lower class sizes or school location?
That's one of the many questions Brainerd School Board members would like to answer as they begin developing a 10- to 15-year long-range plan and district policy about class sizes.
The school board facilities committee met Thursday at Forestview Middle School also to take a tour of the Dean Makey School Forest.
Board members discussed the creation of a class size policy, possibly setting a target of 25 students or less per classroom. They also talked about the creation of a task force to help them develop a long-range plan later this school year.
Board members directed Superintendent Steve Razidlo to present the district's goals about class sizes and proposed criteria for a class size task force at a facilities committee meeting sometime in October.
Steve Lund, director of business services, gave board members a spreadsheet on per pupil costs associated with each of the district's school buildings in the last three years, including current capacity figures. Operational costs include staffing, special education costs, instructional support and building maintenance.
During the 2007-08 school year, the average per pupil unit cost to operate the district's elementary school buildings - at the time there were eight - was $680. Operational costs broken down per pupil unit for each of the eight buildings were as follows: Baxter, $552; Garfield, $558; Harrison, $689; Lincoln, $626; Lowell, $516; Riverside, $573; Nisswa, $901; and Whittier, $1,027. Costs for Forestview were $544 per pupil unit; Brainerd High School South Campus, $779; and BHS, $816.
Last year after the district cut teaching staff, closed Whittier and Lincoln as elementary schools and created larger class sizes, the average per pupil operational costs for its six remaining elementary schools dropped to $571, a savings of $109 per pupil unit.
During the 2008-09 school year, the average per pupil unit cost was as reported as follows: Baxter, $468; Garfield, $481; Harrison, $696; Lowell, $493; Riverside, $585; and Nisswa, $793. Cost for the other schools rose slightly: Forestview, $627 per pupil unit; BHS South Campus, $829; and BHS, $871.
"We jam-packed them into the schools and we saved money, but what about effectiveness?," Lund asked.
Lund noted it is costing the district $36,522 a year to keep Whittier "dark."
Enrollment projections as of Wednesday showed the district is at or near capacity at each of its six elementary schools. The district added back 17 teachers for the upcoming school year as a result of a combination of federal stimulus funds and reallocation of staff development funds, allowing class sizes to drop to an average size of 26 students. At this point, all but Garfield and Nisswa schools are at capacity and cannot add another classroom. Razidlo said Garfield and Nisswa could add one more section each and the district is considering the addition of another kindergarten teacher at Garfield this fall since kindergarten classes there are averaging 30-31 students.
If the district's goal is to have elementary class sizes capped at 25 students, the district will exceed that by 105 students.
The district was projecting an estimated 512 kindergartners this year and so far they have 521 kindergartners registered. Board chair Ruth Nelson noted that the district, which has had flat enrollment in recent years, is projected to experience larger kindergarten sizes during the next few years.
Board member Molly Kurtzman said she realizes that the ideal class size is 20 students but said it would be important to find out what is more important to parents, school location or class sizes. She asked whether this task force could survey parents to find out if they want the district to open up another section so their child could attend a smaller class, which would mean relocating to a different school for possibly one year only, or remain at the same elementary school regardless of class sizes.
"Maybe parents would say, 'I don't care where you put my kid, I want them to be in a class where they learn the best,'" said Kurtzman.
Kurtzman said she would like to see the development of long-term class size goals, making sure this plan is driven by short-term goals as well.
In other committee action, committee members looked over a proposal for the College Drive reconstruction project. WSB and Associates Inc. representatives will attend a facilities committee meeting in October to discuss the preliminary plan. The board gave conceptual approval to the project but has not approved the final plan.
Lund said the district's estimated assessments for the project total $43,048 and its proceeds from right-of-way acquisitions and easements would be about $86,915. He said MnDOT is still reviewing whether a signal light is warranted at Fifth and Quince streets, which is a busy intersection in front of BHS and BHS South Campus when school is in session. He said the district would like to see a signal light at that intersection. Lund said if MnDOT finds a need for the light, state aid would cover nearly all of the $200,000 cost for the signal light. If not, then the city could put a signal light in at its own expense.
Committee members took a tour of the Dean Makey School Forest, led by Makey, a DNR forester who has spent many hours working and volunteering at the 60-acre school forest and serves on the school forest management committee. The school forest is often used as an outdoor classroom at Forestview and has a trail system used by students and community members. The trails are groomed for cross-country skiing during the winter for use by students during gym classes and by the community.
Board member Kent Montgomery said investment costs for plantings, a new observation deck, trails and other forest improvements total about $14,000, all paid for through grants or matching grant funds.
JODIE TWEED may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5858.
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