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District 518 welcomes community input

WORTHINGTON -- The morning after more than a hundred people attended a public meeting to share District 518 budget ideas, the District 518 Board of Education operations committee spoke approvingly of the suggestions.

Though many of the ideas were dismissed as unworkable, unwise or based on insufficient information, operations committee members applauded the community's response.

"People are wanting to participate. We just have to ask," Superintendent John Landgaard said Tuesday.

Local residents gathered Monday night in small groups to suggest ways in which the district can hit its reduction goal of $500,000 for the 2006-2007 school year. Many suggestions focused on extra-curricular funding.

"I was a little surprised at so much comment about raising the fees," said committee member Lowell Nystrom. "Some even suggested taking the cap off. That surprised me a little bit."

Director of Special Programs Betty McAllister also attended the Tuesday morning committee meeting.

"I think it was interesting that there was so much focus on extra-curriculars," she said. "But if we eliminate all of them, we still have a big problem."

Committee member Linden Olson said local residents need to understand that extra-curricular activities represent valuable programs for the entire community and that the district's funding shortfall cannot be fixed with simple solutions -- a point of view shared by fellow committee member Steve Schnieder.

"We have an awful lot of people focusing on the little dollars, and we have a lot of programs and we still come up short. ... They're not focusing on the larger picture," Olson said. "I think we have a job to do to educate the community to help them realize that these co-curriculars and extra-curriculars have value to the entire community."

Olson added that when students go to college, their involvement in extra-curriculars can provide them an extra boost. That extends to the workplace, too, Schnieder said.

"When you've got 20 candidates all with 'B' averages, employers are going to look at something else," Schnieder said. "They're going to sort out the ones they're going to look at pretty quick. And what's left to them after the GPA?"

Schnieder also said he's reluctant to "go too far" with fees, pointing out that he doesn't want students to have to spend more time fund-raising than participating.

Landgaard said he was happy at Monday night's attendance and that so many residents are willing to make suggestions. Some public meeting participants said they'd be willing to push for an operating referendum this year to stave off deeper cuts in 2007-2008.

"I think conversation and recommendations about another referendum should come today rather than August," Nystrom said.

Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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