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Two school board members ask to reconsider purchase of Shopko building

In a Monday committee meeting, they stated that they hadn't understood the implications of their votes to build a brand new community education facility on existing District 518 land.

district 518 brown house
District 518's administration building in Worthington.

WORTHINGTON — As designs near completion on District 518's planned community education building — a process set in motion by a 6-1 Nov. 17 vote to build new on land the district already owns — two board members have asked for a work session to revisit a possible purchase of the former Shopko building instead of building new.

At Monday's instructional committee meeting, Superintendent John Landgaard gave an update on the planning process of the building. He noted that while the space will house the community education department, the other offices now operating out of the former West Elementary site won't fit there and will have to be broken up between other district buildings. This is not ideal for a couple of reasons, he said, as special education and the department of teaching and learning really need to be in the same building so they can collaborate efficiently. As the district grows, he added, there is also no room for expansion.

Hearing this, school board members Brad Shaffer and Adam Blume revealed that when they voted to pursue building a new building, it had been their understanding that it would have enough room that everything currently happening at West would be moved to the new site. Landgaard had explained in September that the district only owns so much land on its Crailsheim Road property, and that it's unable to accommodate a building that will meet all of the district's needs.

"That's why the Shopko building was the ideal fix," Landgaard said Monday, "but that's not the direction we went."

He reiterated that the Shopko site is 67,000 square feet of space — enough to house all the district's offices and then some — and would cost $1 million less to renovate than is currently budgeted to build new. As currently planned, the district is just going to run out of room again in a few years.

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"My personal opinion is we really need to revisit Shopko," Blume said. Shaffer, meanwhile, asked, "Is it too late?"

They asked for a work session to further discuss options. At the operations committee meeting Tuesday, Landgaard informed the other members of the school board that a work session had been requested, but he did not mention Shopko, so it's currently unknown what the other board members think about the reconsideration proposal.

The full school board will approve and schedule a work session at its meeting next week.

Learning plan

The instructional committee also had strong feelings about future plans for getting all students back into school.

Beginning Feb. 16, all District 518 schools will have full-time in-person instruction, with early release on Wednesdays. The reason for the early release is that at Prairie Elementary, teachers' contracts require a certain amount of preparation and collaboration time without students. State COVID guidelines prohibit kids from eating in the cafeteria, so before school and during lunchtime, students are eating in their classrooms, which eats into teachers' contractual prep time.

To solve this problem, Prairie staff asked to begin early release one day a week. Staff at the middle and high schools don't need this extra time, Landgaard told the instructional committee, but because of the limited number of bus drivers, it would be logistically difficult to arrange two separate bus routes home. For this reason, the Wednesday early release was extended districtwide.

Blume and Shaffer asked about other potential solutions to the problem, but Landgaard explained that in order for paraprofessionals — for example — to stay with the kids during eating times to free up teachers, the district would have to hire at least a dozen more paras.

Blume objected to the early release on the grounds that just morning class isn't enough time to get anything done.

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"What's really going to be accomplished from eight o'clock to 11 o'clock?" he asked.

At Prairie, teachers spend Wednesday mornings focusing on math and English during those approximately three hours.

Shaffer raised a separate concern.

"Intervention has been an epic failure," he said. "It's been misused."

By "misused," Shaffer explained that he meant that during hybrid learning Wednesday intervention days, some teachers have chosen to work from home.

If teachers choose this route, then "don't come crying about the inequities (of contract)," he said.

He'd be willing to support Wednesday early release if there can be some assurance that teachers will be physically in district buildings to do their work.

"Either agree to that, or we don't approve this," Shaffer said.

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"You're setting the district up to lose," Landgaard told him, explaining that he, as superintendent, cannot tell teachers that they can't work from home while they aren't in front of students.

The full board will consider the March learning plan next week.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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