The Brainerd Neighborhood Schools Coalition spoke to the Brainerd City Council a week ago and gained council support in its effort to re-open Whittier Elementary School.
On Monday, the coalition and its supporters went to the Brainerd School Board to seek its support in an effort to reopen the school for the fall of 2009. Whittier Elementary was closed last spring as part of the district's $5.5 million in budget cuts.
The school board heard from the coalition, but took no action on reopening Whittier.
Krista Soukup, representing the coalition, said the group is a mix of concerned citizens who have children of all ages at all schools, not just Whittier. Soukup said the coalition understands that the school budget is diverse, but said the coalition would like to work with the school district to re-open the school. Soukup said the coalition supports the continuance of keeping the rest of the elementary schools open because it supports the concept of neighborhood schools.
Elizabeth Everson-Villella, a third-grader at Lowell school, spoke Monday night at the Brainerd School Board meeting. She read a prepared statement explaining how she missed her former school days at Whittier school. A delegation was on hand to encourage the board to consider reopening the closed elementary school in north Brainerd. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls » Purchase reprints of this photo.
Soukup said the coalition found research that shows closed schools can have an impact on property taxes, quality of life and quality of education for students.
Kelly Bevans, city council president, who represented the council at the meeting, said it is in full support of reopening Whittier. Bevans said the council understands the difficult decision the school board had to make on its budget. However, Bevans said education is an investment and investing in smaller schools and smaller class sizes is a better investment. Bevans said student learning is enhanced in a smaller setting and relationships between schools, parents and the community is improved.
Bevans also said that by opening Whittier, there would be less traffic congestion because most of the students would walk to school and this would be more environmental friendly. Bevans also noted that keeping Whittier closed as an empty building would offer a potential of crime and would lower property values near the school.
Brainerd Superintendent Steve Razidlo later asked Bevans to clarify if the city council agreed to any financial support of Whittier. Bevans said the city council has not had any requests brought forth for such support.
Elizabeth Evenson-Villella, a third-grader at Lowell Elementary School and a former Whittier student, spoke about the changes in her life since Whittier closed. Evenson-Villella said her mom won't let her walk to school anymore and she misses that.
"My teacher is nice at Lowell, but there are 32 kids in my class," said Evenson-Villella. "Some kids have to sit on the outside of our circle because it is so crowded."
Claire Steen, a retired teacher from Pequot Lakes and a coalition member, spoke in favor of neighborhood schools and the opening of Whittier. Council member Bob Olson also spoke of reopening Whittier.
Olson said he's concerned that the school district does not have adequate transportation for the students and he's worried about their health and safety.
Dave Hermerding, a northside resident, said after looking at the numbers on what the district thought it'd save with the closure of Whittier that "the cost savings are nil." Hermerding said the district now is bussing the former Whittier students to other schools, which costs money, and it also lost students to private schools. Hermerding said he knows of at least five students who left the public school system.
Hermerding said the closure of the school also is hurting local businesses in the area.
The school board said it would discuss the coalition's presentation at a future committee meeting.
JENNIFER STOCKINGER may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5851.
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