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BEA board discussing closing W’bago school

By Staff | Mar 9, 2015

The fate of the Winnebago Elementary School remains in limbo.

The Blue Earth Area School Board held a work session last Monday in regard to the declining enrollment at the Winnebago site.

However, it is not just the enrollment numbers causing the administration to take a second look, it is also the cost of deferred maintenance on the building in Winnebago.

“A year ago today we had a work session and talked about a deferred maintenence plan,” superintendent Evan Gough said.

The plan covered 10 years of projects which will come up at the various sites including the high school, the K-7 building and the Winnebago site. “The high school is now a 20-year-old building,” Gough says. “We are starting to see that on the roofs right now, which is a big portion of the maintenance there.”

The high school’s planned maintenence for the next 10 years totals almost $1.6 million, while the K-7 building’s plan is estimated to cost $1.3 million.

Compared to those two sites, the $5 million price tag attached to the Winnebago building is raising some red flags.

As Gough spent more time looking at the numbers, it became clear that enrollment numbers have continued to decrease since 2009.

The School Board was able to take time during the work session to ask more questions about those numbers without taking any action on the matter.

“How many students already travel from Winnebago to Blue Earth?” board member Amber Patten asked.

The administration thought that about five students from Winnebago are already going to Blue Earth for school.

The numbers presented at the last School Board meeting included the class sizes at Blue Earth compared to that of a classroom in Winnebago.

The board looked specifically at the fifth grade class. At the Blue Earth site there are three sections of fifth grade, one with 25 students and two with 26 students. The Winnebago site has one section of fifth grade which has 14 students.

If they combined, it was thought that another section could be added.

“Is 25 students per classroom too many? A perfect amount?” Patten asked.

Gough stated that it would be in line with most other areas.

“In my years of teaching, 25 is a nice size class,” board chair Frankie Bly adds.

So, by looking more in depth at the numbers presented at the previous board meeting the idea of closing the Winnebago site is still a possibility.

The potential savings to the district in doing so could total between $335,000 to $465,000. The savings would come from $95,000 in building operation costs, $10-15,000 for repairs and anywhere from $230,000 to $355,000 from staffing alone.

However, administration hopes to handle staffing reductions through resignations and retirements.

As previously discussed, the Southern Plains Education Cooperative currently operates out of a portion of the school. If the school district moved out of Winnebago, Southern Plains has expressed strong interest in utilizing the entire building for their services.

“Right now it looks very positive that SPEC would be here,” Bly added. “It is an ideal location.”

Even if the cooperative did utilize the building, Gough said that BEA would still use the gym for gymnastics and would still use the Winnebago baseball field.

“But, I have just been giving you numbers, they can change day to day,” Gough says. “If we don’t do something to reduce expenditures then we have to raise revenue and when we do we will be asked, ‘did you look at all the options? Have you done all the cost savings you can?'”

A lot of discussion took place during the work session. However, since no action or public comment was able to take place, the issue will be on the agenda for the next regular board meeting.

According to Minnesota statutes regarding the closing of school buildings, a school board must hold a public hearing prior to closing a schoolhouse.

“At the next meeting we should think about taking action to go ahead with holding a public hearing,” Gough said.

The next regular School Board meeting is scheduled for Monday night at 6:30 p.m. and they will set the date and time for the public hearing at that meeting.

“At this point, a public hearing would most likely be held on March 31,” Gough said.