WORTHINGTON ― The District 518 school board made two big decisions during its regular meeting Tuesday evening: it will pursue a new community education building on its Crailsheim Road property near the Area Learning Center, and that school will continue in full-time distance learning until at least Jan. 4, 2021.

Community ed building

District 518 Superintendent John Landgaard explained that he's wanting direction from the board because it would be ideal for the project to go out for bids in July or August when the bidding environment is most competitive. He declined to provide a recommendation, stating that this should be the board's decision, but did say that no matter how the board decided to proceed, he would feel most comfortable if the total project cost was $18 million or less.

Board member Steve Schnieder said he didn't have an appetite to fight with the city of Worthington over whether or not the school district should be allowed to purchase the Shopko building, so he would rather just build new on district-owned land.

Board member Joel Lorenz agreed and motioned for a vote, but board member Mike Harberts lobbied for taking no action.

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"This is an $18-million decision," said Harberts, noting that since that number had never been stated before, he'd rather have a work session before proceeding. (Previous discussions of this project have focused on a $15 million price range.)

Board member Brad Shaffer also raised a concern.

"I'm worried about what it's (the budget) going to look like next year," he said. "I don't know what the hurry is."

Other board members noted that so far, this decision will not have any effect on the budget; it just means that Landgaard would be authorized to begin the planning process.

"This motion does not commit us to spending a dollar," Lorenz said.

Board member Adam Blume agreed that he was ready to move forward on making plans for community education. He also stressed that he's more concerned about the students right now, since so many are struggling with distance learning.

While the rest of the board favored the Crailsheim Road site, board member Linden Olson made one last pitch for the Shopko site, noting that it's the most space for the least money and allows room for expansion.

Schnieder said he agreed with Olson's assessment, but since community feedback overwhelmingly supports building on district-owned land, then that's what the board should do.

"It's been going on long enough," Lorenz said. "We've been talking about this for years and years and years."

When it came to a vote, the board was 6:1 in favor of starting the planning process for a new building on Crailsheim Road. Harberts was opposed.

Learning model

After hearing the most recent research and COVID numbers in the area, district administrators recommended not bringing students back into school buildings until at least Jan. 4, Landgaard explained. As of Tuesday, the district had 166 confirmed cases in isolation, including 24 staff members.

"There's nothing that breaks my heart more than not to have kids in class every day," Landgaard said.

Shaffer agreed, stating that nobody thinks distance learning is ideal, but it's necessary right now in the interest of public health. While students are in distance learning, he noted, some need an extra push. He expressed concern about the number of students taking a "no credit" grade for classes, and added that parents need to partner with teachers in trying to motivate students to complete their school work.

Blume and Olson shared Shaffer's concern, and Olson suggested the community be invited to help tutor students who need it. Landgaard noted that such a program might be complicated to coordinate, but said he would look into potential plans.

Also at the school board meeting:

  • The board heard a report on its 2019-2020 audit, which indicated a favorable financial status. Members approved the audit report.
  • A second and final reading was approved of policies regarding tobacco, vaping and student medication.
  • Board members approved the World's Best Workforce report and goals for submission to the Minnesota Department of Education.
  • The board agreed to pay the Minnesota State High School League membership dues.