On Tuesday, Brainerd School Board members will ask community members for their thoughts on options the district has proposed to alleviate projected enrollment growth in the elementary schools.
In the meantime, school board members, including the three newly elected board members, varied widely on their support for several administrative proposals. Some of those proposals have changed or have been rejected since they were initially announced last month.
The school board facilities committee met Tuesday and the three newly elected members - Jim Hunt, Tom Haglin and Chris Robinson - joined the others at the board table to discuss the five proposed elementary options. These were expanded to at least 10 possibilities, including the option of doing nothing, and all board members informally voted to narrow that list to five options to be presented at the community forum planned for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Forestview Middle School.
The initial options included re-opening Whittier School for one section of kindergarten through fourth grade and transferring the Lowell enrichment program there; relocating Baxter fourth grade to Forestview Middle School, creating four classrooms of relief at Baxter and making Baxter a five-section kindergarten-through-third-grade school; purchasing new portable classrooms at Riverside to create a kindergarten wing; purchasing used portable classrooms and installing them at Lowell School; and opening Washington Educational Services Building to one section of K-4 and the enrichment program.
After much discussion and a recommendation by administrators, the board decided to pull the options of purchasing portable classrooms for Lowell and Riverside schools from consideration. The options were costly and would only provide relief for one year before other options would need to be considered as student enrollment grew. Superintendent Steve Razidlo said adding the portable classrooms also would add considerable strain to both schools, which can't accommodate the influx of students in the cafeteria, gymnasium, media center and other communal spaces.
Here's a look at other options discussed for the first time at Tuesday's meeting:
• Complete renovation of the Washington building to create either a kindergarten center, a fourth-grade center or an eighth-grade center, all designed to be more long-term solutions for growth within the district. Each proposal would require district offices to be moved.
The creation of a kindergarten center is estimated to cost about $1.4 million and would accommodate up to 24 classrooms of the district's kindergartners. Razidlo said some school districts have created kindergarten centers, which would provide additional space at all remaining elementary schools. A problem with this proposal, as well as a fourth-grade center, is that playground space is minimal for the more than 500 kindergarten or fourth-grade students. A fourth-grade center at Washington would cost about $883,000 and accommodate up to 22 classrooms. The proposal also would free up space at all elementary schools. An eighth-grade center at Washington would cost about $970,000 and accommodate up to 20 classrooms. This would require major changes for fourth- through eight-graders and staff.
• Re-open Whittier and add used portables for a two-section K-4 school, adding 250 student spaces. The plan's upfront costs would be $456,000, with total reoccurring costs, including staffing and operational costs, at $654,500. Operational costs per year would be $110,000. The proposal involves purchasing a used portable building from St. Cloud Schools, remodeling two of the portable classrooms into a 1,700-square-foot cafeteria/multipurpose room and using the two remaining portable classrooms for students. The proposal will help alleviate growth for about four years until the district would have to find other options if it were to maintain its goal of an average of 25 students per classroom.
• Relocate Baxter fourth-graders and the Lowell enrichment program to Forestview, creating four classrooms of relief at Baxter, making Baxter a five-section K-3 school. This provides one section of fourth-grade relief at Nisswa and four sections of relief at Lowell School, adding 225 student spaces. Total upfront costs would be $90,000, with total reoccurring costs at $477,500. Operational costs per year would be $16,667. The plan would alleviate growth for about three years.
• Or the board could do nothing. If so, the district would experience average class sizes of 28 students per class by the 2014-15 school year, similar to class sizes following the failed referendum in 2007 and subsequent $5.5 million in budget reductions.
With a show of hands, board members voted to bring five viable options to the public at the upcoming forum.
Those options to be presented Tuesday are re-opening Whittier for one section of K-4 and the enrichment program; relocating Baxter fourth-graders to Forestview; renovating Washington into an eighth-grade center; re-opening Whittier and adding used portables to create a two-section elementary school; and do nothing.
Board members rejected relocating kindergarten or fourth-graders at Washington since the former high school is not conducive to housing elementary students. Board member Bob Nystrom reminded the board that the reasons the district decided to close the building to students still exist.
Board member Molly Kurtzman stressed that the district's options need to include long-term solutions rather than just short-term ones. Board members agreed that they are undecided on how they would vote on the issue and consider doing nothing as a viable option. Facilities chair Lew Hudson rejected that idea.
"I'm not going to support it," Hudson said. "I don't think we can do nothing."
Kurtzman asked that informational summary sheets be given to those who attend Tuesday's forum so they can see a breakdown of the comparisons of the options, including costs and how many years those proposals would provide classroom relief to the district.
"I want the public to know we have not made a decision," board member Ruth Nelson said. "I want them to know we value their opinions."
JODIE TWEED may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5858.
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