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W’bago Elementary to close

By Staff | Apr 20, 2015

The Blue Earth Area School Board made it official last Monday night and voted 5-1 to close the Winnebago Elementary School effective at the end of the current school year.

Casting the dissenting vote was board member Amber Patten. Board member Lori Frisk-Thompson was absent from the meeting, but she had sent a letter saying she supported the resolution to close the school.

Before the vote was taken, School Board clerk (and board member) Sheila Ripley read the entire resolution which not only called for closing the school, but also listed all of the reasons for doing so, in full detail.

About 40 persons were in attendance at the meeting, which had been moved from the usual School Board conference room to the multi-purpose room in the elementary school. However, not all 40 persons in attendance were there as representatives of the Winnebago community.

At the beginning of the meeting, members of the public were given the opportunity to address the board and five persons did.

Rodney Yates said he had spoken to the board before, but wanted to make “one last-ditch effort” to save the school.

“You are taking the ‘area’ out of Blue Earth Area, and it is becoming just Blue Earth,” he said. “This will hurt Blue Earth as much as it will Winnebago.”

Winnebago city administrator Chris Ziegler asked the vote be on a roll call vote which it was as it was a formal resolution that requires a roll call.

Ziegler added once again that this was a short term solution to a long term problem and the board needed to have taken more time before making a decision.

Mankato attorney Jeff Graves, who said he was representing a group of concerned Winnebago citizens, made two points. One was to question why only less than half the amount of deferred maintenance funds had been spent on the Winnebago building as compared to the district’s other sites.

And two, while he admitted the original 1992 statement of understanding between all the school districts was no longer legally binding, he questioned why the board had not involved the Winnebago community in the decision to close the school anyway.

The mother of a young student questioned the larger class sizes that will be in Blue Earth, and said she was concerned that her daughter will no longer get the one on one time with the teacher that she has had in Winnebago.

Although she said she had heard class sizes would be as high as 29 students, Superintendent Evan Gough said none will be higher than 25 and most would be around 20.

Winnebago mayor Jeremiah Schutt also spoke and said he had listed his concerns in the past.

“But I just want you to take deep consideration of this decision,” he said. “And its impact on everyone.”

At the very end of the meeting Schutt once again addressed the board and said he hoped they would be having some social workers and counselors at the school the next day to deal with “all the heartache.”

“You are going to have some very upset students there,” he said.

Before the vote was taken, board member Patten read a list of concerns and questions she had.

One dealt with possible issues of transportation and longer bus rides for students.

BEA transportation director Dan Brod was at the meeting and said the opposite was true.

“Students will not be getting on the buses any earlier in the morning than they do now,” Brod said. “And they will be getting home earlier in the afternoon.”

He explained that buses will not be doubling up and will actually travel fewer miles. And he said, two buses in the Winnebago area have been running half full in the past and now they will have more students on board.

In other business at last Monday’s regular meeting, the BEA School Board:

Heard a report from service resource officer (SRO) DJ Bullerman on how things are going with the program.

Bullerman, a deputy sheriff with the Faribault County Sheriff’s Office, is on duty full time at BEA Schools.

Superintendent Gough reminded the board that the district pays 75 percent of the cost of having Bullerman at the schools and the sheriff’s department pays the other 25 percent.

Bullerman said things are going very well with the program.

“I have touched on some issues with the students,” he says. “Things like social media issues, trash talking, bullying, a couple of thefts, damage, that kind of thing.”

But, for the most part things are going great, he adds. The officer especially likes talking with the students and staff during the lunch hour.

Approved the retirement notice of David Sparks, technology coordinator, who has worked for the BEA District for 46 years.

Also approve hiring Ellen Germain, Candy Ortiz and Shayna Gregory as paraprofessionals, and resignations from Kathleen Fleming (paraprofessional), Kathleen Ehlert (cook’s helper), Sarah Schultze (Title I math), Michelle Kapfhamer (Winnebago elementary teacher) and Stacy Herman (paraprofessional).

Approved the addition of two more spring sports coaches; Jon Franta seventh grade baseball and Al Thielfoldt volunteer boys golf.