A report on declining enrollment figures at Blue Earth Area Schools at last Monday’s BEA School Board meeting soon turned into a discussion of closing the Winnebago Elementary building.
BEA superintendent Evan Gough said the overall enrollment has dropped more than 25 students since the current school year began last fall.
“That has a dramatic effect on our current budget,” Gough said, referring to the fact that the school’s state aid funds are tied to the number of students attending each day.
Gough said the average daily membership (ADM), which means how many pupil units are in school each day, was at 1,232.45 last year.
“Currently, we have dropped to 1,187 ADM at this moment,” Gough said, adding that the number was well over 1,200 at the start of the school year. “We are down 25 students since Sept. 29, and that is a dramatic decrease.”
Gough says there has been no mass exodus of students, but instead the administration has tracked that most of the loss is due to families moving out of the district.
School principals confirmed that there has
been no additional decrease due to open enrollment to other schools.
The enrollment figures also showed there are three grades at the Winnebago school which are at 14
students in each classroom.
“This is a concern as far as budgeting goes,” Gough says. “We have said before that class sizes at Winnebago needs to remain at 17 (per grade/class) in order to stay feasible.”
School board chairman Frankie Bly said that as a former teacher, the situation would not sit well with him.
“If I was a teacher in Blue Earth with 26 students in my class and a teacher (of the same grade) in Winnebago had just 14 in their classroom, I?would ask why I had to have nearly twice as many students,” Bly said. “That does not seem fair to me.”
And, board member Mark Maher brought up another issue building costs.
“Our building and grounds committee had a study done last year and it showed the Winnebago site has $5 million of deferred maintenance and repair work that needs to be done sometime,” Maher said.
Gough added that the high school building, now 20 years old, also needs $1 million in deferred maintenance/repair and the Blue Earth elementary/middle school needs $2 million in additional work.
“But, in Winnebago, a big issue is that the larger of the two boilers is nearly 100 years old and needs to be replaced, or one day we just won’t have heat in the building,” Gough said. “If we were to do all the repair, maintenance and remodeling work necessary in Winnebago, we would actually be approaching $7 million to $8 million.”
The state aid received each year includes just $85,000 for repair and maintenance, he added.
Gough also offered a solution as to what to do with the school building in Winnebago.
“Currently the Southern Plains Cooperative rents the second floor of the building,” Gough said. “They have expressed an interest in taking over the entire building, either renting it or purchasing it.”
And, he added, they are aware of the boiler and maintenance issues of the site.
Maher asked if there was any kind of an estimate on the amount of cost savings if the school is closed and the students and staff were all moved to Blue Earth.
“We have looked at the numbers,” Gough said. “While there are several factors that could affect it, a careful number would be between $350,000 and $500,000 in savings per year.”
He added that there could be staff reductions, but he was confident that could be achieved by not filling open positions that come about due to resignations and retirements, and not through layoffs.
Gough was also asked if there would be room in the Blue Earth site, and he responded that there would be no problem with space.
The school board is going to hold a special work session on the current budget issues on Monday, March 2, at 6:30 p.m.