Last night I attended a public forum hosted by District 518 on some possible facilities changes the district is considering.
I believe I managed to hit all the major points in my article here, but because it was late and I’d already written 38 inches of copy, I thought it might be worth it to add a few details to the story here.
Superintendent Landgaard’s PowerPoint presentation was pretty thorough and I couldn’t include every single speck of information from it, or every single comment people made on the issues, either. (The meeting lasted about an hour and a half.)
Another chart he had showed the past enrollment of the district and also projected enrollment. I wasn’t able to get all the numbers, which he had for every year, but I did take down a few years in an attempt to show the trending.
Enrollment is projected to rise for District 518.
Note that this is very unusual for rural Minnesota. Where I used to live (Clara City, which is near Willmar), the graduating class last year was about half the size of my graduating class, which had not been especially large. Enrollment is declining in most of rural Minnesota.
"Six years ago, when I came here, Prairie (enrollment) was about 850 students," Landgaard said. "I didn’t think anyone had the vision that we’d have 1100 kids right now. It’s been the last three years that we’ve seen the explosion come."
Enrollment had been predicted to decline by just about everyone, across the board.
Open enrollment trends have also been changing for the district. Four years ago, Landgaard said, 180 students open enrolled out of the district. But last year, about the same number of students open enrolled into District 518 as open enrolled out of it. The numbers are beginning to balance out, in other words.
One person (a parent? I’m not sure) brought up the possibility of building a pre-kindergarten and kindergarten building and separating those kids out from the rest of Prairie.
"I haven’t seen a huge interest by anybody on a pre-K/K type facility," Landgaard said.
Such a building would need an estimated 12-14 classrooms, and any time a new building is added, more facilities costs will also be added. Currently the district does not have a preschool, which are, Landgaard said, typically money-losers for a school district.
While I don’t know a single kindergarten or first-grade teacher who would not like to see every single child attend preschool, the state does not even fully fund kindergarten.
As of January 2008, the state system weights a kindergartener at slightly more than half a pupil unit, compared to 1.115 for first- through third-graders, 1.06 for fourth- through sixth-graders and 1.3 for older kids. (Please note, I’m not sure if the numbers have changed since then.)
Funding all-day, every-day kindergarten was done through an operating levy, which means local people voluntarily increased their taxes in order to pay for it. As far as I know, preschool would have to be paid for in the same way — through a tax increase.
Another detail I didn’t mention in my article (because I couldn’t figure out how to fit it in) was Landgaard’s warning against cyberbullying. It was brought up in the context of the possibility of 5th graders being bullied by 8th graders.
The superintendent warned parents to watch out for cyberbullying, which has become a major problem across the United States, on Facebook, MySpace, cellphones and instant messaging services. Landgaard even mentioned the tragic case of Megan Meier (though not by name), who killed herself over cyberbullying performed by an adult parent of one of her friends.
Though it didn’t fit in with the rest of the article, I wanted to mention Landgaard’s comments here in the hopes that parents will take them quite seriously.