School board OKs Nov. 5 vote
By Jane Turpin Moore
WORTHINGTON — Voters in District 518 will go the polls Nov. 5 to decide whether two existing district buildings should be remodeled and expanded.
The District 518 school board approved a resolution during its Tuesday meeting to revoke the existing $1,000 per-pupil referendum authorization. That move enabled the board to approve a new per-pupil authorization and call a special election on the question.
Included on the ballot will be a request for the proposed remodeling and expansion, as well as construction of a new intermediate (grades 3-5) school.
“Our enrollment figures are even higher than the last time we updated you,” District 518 Superintendent John Landgaard said. “When the 2012-13 school year ended, we had 2,681 students and as of today, we are at 2,931 students — 250 higher than then.”
Since last week, Prairie Elementary’s count has risen to 1,240 pupils (up 16), Worthington Middle School (WMS) is at 786 (up four), the Alternative Learning Center tallied 85 (up 15) and WHS is at 820 (up 12).
“Is this due to open enrollment or what?” queried board member Scott Rosenberg.
“It’s all over the place,” Landgaard responded. “It’s open enrollment, tuition students, new people moving to town, hiring practices, new immigrants, some housing that’s opened up — it’s a whole variety of things.”
Interestingly, a student population of 2,931 is the number Landgaard had projected more than a year ago — for the 2015-16 school year.
“What’s the capacity of the schools?” asked board member Steve Schnieder. “Are we exceeding the normal capacity of the classrooms? Are there enough chairs?”
“Well, the design capacity at Prairie is 1,150, 850 at WMS and 800 to 850 at WHS,” Landgaard replied. “We don’t have figures for the ALC or West Learning Center.
“Is there staff overload?” board member Lori Dudley wanted to know.
“I have one staff member who is overloaded,” responded WHS Principal Paul Karelis, “but I can’t add more staff because there are no more classrooms for teachers.”
Still, Karelis said the first day of school at WHS Tuesday had gone smoothly, and he was hoping for more of the same in the days ahead.
Meanwhile, Prairie Elementary Assistant Principal Heidi Meyer, who was also in attendance, said that while classroom counts in fourth-grade rooms have gone as high as 25 or 26 students in past years, recent section additions at the kindergarten, second- and fourth-grade levels means class sizes are holding fairly steady for now.
“We are averaging 21 students per class in K-1, 22 to 23 in second and third and 24 to 25 in fourth,” Meyer reported.
“This district’s goal has been to never let the younger grades’ class sizes creep up, because we know it’s important to get as much one-on-one help to kids in the lower grades as possible to maximize learning,” Karelis said.
With only four District 518 administrators in the audience, board chair Linden Olson breezed through the meeting’s agenda in about 45 minutes. Another item evoking a surprising spurt of discussion was approval of an application form for a student school board representative.
“We’d like to establish a program that would allow a [junior or senior] student to be an ex-officio school board member who could participate in discussions,” Landgaard said.
“Was this brought forth by students or administrators?” wondered board member Brad Shaffer. “Is this something students want?”
Landgaard explained the idea had, indeed, not come from students, but he and Olson were aware of other area schools with similar programs.
“My concern is, if students aren’t asking for this, is there even potential for students to step forward? Is the commitment there?” Shaffer asked.
“If kids don’t know something like this is possible, how would they even know to come forward?” Olson said. “Other schools that are part of the Minnesota School Board Association have had very positive experiences with this and received valuable input from students.
“We thought, from talking to administrators, there would be some well-qualified candidates at the high school who would be interested.”
Karelis confirmed he was already aware of six to seven motivated students who were interested in applying for the student school board representative position, once the form was approved.
“I’d want it to be the right individual, someone who would spend the time and be active,” Rosenberg said. “If this is a flop after a year’s time, I’d like to see it removed and not just be used as a resume-builder.”
Ultimately, a unanimous “yes” vote prevailed, and application forms for WHS juniors and seniors will be available in the principal’s office. A committee of school board members will review the applications and conduct interviews as necessary.
In other business, the District 518 school board:
- unanimously confirmed the consent agenda, including the D.A.P.E. program contract renewal with the YMCA and the cooperative agreement with Minnesota West for an ABE course
- approved first and second readings of numerous policies
- approved a five-year contract agreement with the Worthington Hockey Association
- discussed the status of the girls’ hockey program (increased numbers of verbal commitments to play have temporarily eliminated discussion of a cooperative with Windom, though concerns remain about experience and skill level)
- approved the refinancing of 2005 bonds for Prairie Elementary school in order to benefit from a lower interest rate and save money for the district
- set the 2013 date for the Truth in Taxation hearing for Dec. 17 at 6 p.m. in the WHS media center.
In addition, Director of Business Management Dave Skog reported that auditors are beginning this week to review the district’s financials, and he hopes for a wrap-up of the audit work by early October.
A Referendum Promotion Committee meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Sept. 4 at the WHS cafeteria; any interested members of the public are invited to attend.
District 518 2013-14 activity calendars are available at the district’s administrative and school offices, and activity passes are available for purchase at the WHS office.
The next regular meeting of the District 518 board is scheduled to take place in the WHS media center at 5:15 p.m. Sept. 17.
For more information about recent proceedings of the District 518 board of directors, visit www.isd518.net/school-board.