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W’bago airs their concerns

By Staff | Mar 15, 2015

Winnebago mayor Jeremiah Schutt presented a list of concerns to the Blue Earth Area School Board last Monday about the possible closing of the Winnebago School.

“I feel it is my job as mayor to make you aware of how the community feels about this,” Schutt said. “There is a big concern that this is being pushed forward way too quickly, and I am asking you to consider waiting another year in order to properly prepare for this change.”

Schutt was one of several Winnebago residents in attendance, and the first one to speak to the board. Each was given five minutes during the ‘public express’ portion of the meeting to address the board.

“We need to do what is best for all our students,” Schutt said. “Please keep that at the top of the list.”

The mayor pointed out that enrollment decline is not just in Winnebago but also district wide.

He asked if other options were being considered, such as busing students from Blue Earth to Winnebago, having a referendum to cover budget shortfalls or doing a survey to get public input.

Schutt pointed out that the Winnebago Elementary was recently named a ‘celebration school’ for its students’ high test scores, and the Blue Earth Elementary had low scores.

“What are you planning to do if the school does close?” he asked. “There is still maintenance issues for the building. Is there a long term commitment from the (Southern Minnesota) co-op to use the building?”

Winnebago city administrator Chris Ziegler also addressed the board and said he echoed many of the points made by the mayor.

“Rather than just make a decision to close the building in two months time, I agree with Jeremiah that you should commit to another year so that you can look at long-term solutions,” Ziegler said. “Other options have not been made to the public.”

Later in the meeting the School Board did formally vote to hold a public informational meeting about the closing of the school.

That public hearing will be held on Tuesday, March 31, at 6:30 p.m. in the gym at the Winnebago Elementary School.

During last Monday’s regular board meeting, superintendent Evan Gough once again presented charts that showed current enrollment in all grade levels in both Winnebago and Blue Earth Schools.

Overall, BEA School average daily membership (ADM) figures show enrollment of 1,186 at this time, down from 1,232 last year.

Winnebago Elementary enrollment is at 103, down from 111 in 2014 and 120 in 2013. Blue Earth Elementary is at 459, down from 485 in 2014 but up from 457 in 2013.

The charts also show the census numbers for children ages one to five. In 2014 there were 481 children in those age groups, down from 518 in 2013 and 530 in 2012.

Gough also presented a chart showing a potential $335,000 to $465,000 savings if the school building in Winnebago is closed.