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District 518 committees consider space, facility options

The District 518 administrative office. (File photo)

WORTHINGTON — Approximately 20 possible short and long-term options to address District 518 space constraints were presented to the board of education instructional committee during its Tuesday morning meeting.

Superintendent John Landgaard said many of the options would carry both costly and parent convenience implications, but addressing space issues cannot be avoided.

“Education has changed, and the square footage per student has changed,” he said. “Times have changed, and we can’t live in the past.”

Instructional committee members were all dissatisfied with the recommended options to alleviate some of the space issues the district has been dealt with due to an increasing enrollment; they called them a detriment to learning. Options range from eliminating course offerings, increasing class sizes, a central food service program, a split schedule or year-round instruction.

Board Vice Chair Scott Rosenberg said, if the bond referendum fails, he is doubtful the board can do anything in students’ best interest to remediate the district’s space needs.

“It’s all going to hurt kids, it’s all going to hurt families,” he said.  

He added that his opinion is to first increase class sizes and begin eliminating low-enrollment classes.

“Which will be your high-flier elective classes,” Board Chair Lori Dudley added.

District facilities

District facilities were also on the agenda for the board’s operations committee, which met Monday.

Members discussed the district’s potential interest in a proposed collaborative project between the school, city and county to renovate the former Campbell’s Soup property into a library, welcome center and community education facility.

Community leaders met Nov. 7 to discuss the potential for the project, which is estimated to save nearly 12,000 square feet and $4.6 million by sharing a facility.

“The next step is for each entity to decide if they want to move forward,” Landgaard said.

Board Treasurer Brad Shaffer said he is interested in continuing to explore the opportunity, but he expressed disappointment that the estimated $26.3 million facility is nearly double the cost originally presented. An estimated additional $2 million is also needed for soil remediation. According to an engineer working on the project, however, grant funding is likely available to cover a portion of that cost.

“I think a collaboration is fantastic,” Shaffer said, “but I’m struggling to spend that kind of money that won’t provide K-12 space.”

Landgaard said some of the additional, unforeseen cost comes from the need to clean up the site. He added that outside funding may be sought, including bonding funds from the Minnesota Legislature.  

Low numbers for girls hoops

The conversation shifted to athletics in Tuesday’s instructional committee meeting.

Landgaard reported that in girls basketball, only 16 girls in grades nine through 12 are participating this season. Due to the low number of participation, Activities Director Josh Dale had discussed with Landgaard possible options to reconstruct the current configuration.

Either the “C” team could be eliminated or, what appeared to be more favorable, the entire eighth grade team play at the C level and the seventh-grade play at the eighth-grade level. There are 10 to 12 eighth-graders and 24 seventh-graders, Landgaard added.

That option would theoretically give the girls more playing time and hopefully encourage future participation in the program, Langaard said.

“If you want to build numbers, you have to give them playing time,” he said.

Dudley asked if the shift would be in violation of the district’s student acceleration to higher-level athletic activities policy. She added that there was a full room of parents when the district considered adopting it.

The policy states that the general practice prohibits the district to accelerate students from middle school athletic programs to high school athletic programs.

However, the procedure allows for exceptions. If the district decides to bump the seventh-graders to the eighth-grade level and the eighth to the C, under the acceleration policy, it must first follow a procedure. Some steps in the procedure include parent notification, evaluation of student athletes and a majority vote between the activities coordinator, school principal and a member of the coaches’ advisory board.

Landgaard said in regard to that policy, he believes the current decision to bump an entire team is less concerning than only bumping select members in each age group.

“This is a numbers-based decision,” he said.

Rosenberg said his only potential concern is that if the shift would allow the same eight or so girls to play the majority of both junior varsity and varsity games on a consistent basis.

No action was taken, as the topic was only meant for discussion to relay to coach's advisory board and administration.  

Other topics that committees discussed and will likely be on Tuesday’s regular agenda include:

  • Discuss reducing the proposed tax levy increase. The board approved a 31 percent maximum increase in September with the intent to reduce it by the time the year’s levy needed to be finalized.

Landgaard said due to the construction of the new Area Learning Center and gymnastics facility along with a debt service, a 3.4 percent final increase from last year’s levy is being proposed. The final levy will not be determined until after a truth and taxation hearing in December.

  • Setting a date for a referendum open house. Landgaard said the open house will likely include a video presentation and various stations manned by board members where individuals can come and go during a two-hour time period and ask questions regarding the proposed $68.5 million bond referendum for a new high school.
  • Naming the new Area Learning Center/gymnastics facility being designed in west Worthington. Shaffer recommended keeping all possibilities on the table and accepting recommendations from students, faculty and community members alike, as well as considering selling naming rights.
  • Reviewing preliminary input from a three day, early November visit by AdvancedEd (a nonprofit school accreditation organization). According to Landgaard, the final results, which evaluates a school on a 4.0 scale, will not be complete for approximately 30 days. However, he added, reviewers commented that the district has well-managed, supportive learning, but could improve its digital and active learning.
Alyssa Sobotka

Alyssa joined The Globe in July 2017 and covers education and crime beats. The Nebraska native earned her bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Nebraska at Kearney. In her own sarcastic tone, her blog, Aimlessly Navigating, recounts the reality, pitfalls and triumphs of a young 20-something navigating to maturity. Follow her on Twitter: @alyssasobotka

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