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Bemidji School Board sets dates for public input on classroom congestion

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Bemidji School Board sets dates for public input on classroom congestion
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

Bemidji School District's elementary schools are very busy and every space is being used, according to Kathy Palm, the district's director of curriculum.

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Not only is Bemidji's largest elementary school, Northern Elementary, using every classroom, but it also has had to take its music room and art room and turn them into classrooms. The school now has music and art on a cart.

"When you go there and they are working in small groups, there is no place to work. So they are in the doorways working with kids," Palm said. "They are feeling the impact of more children being there."

The Bemidji School District's Board of Education met in a special work session Monday evening to discuss how to deal with the expected growth in the number of elementary students. They also set aside four dates in February and March to hold public forums on the topic.

School Board Chairman Bill Faver said the school board in March plans to make a decision on how it will solve the space crunch issue.

According to Chris Leinen, the district's director of business services, in the past two years the growth in the number of students in pre-kindergarten to 12th grade has grown from 4,643 to a 4,945.

Future growth is determined by birth rates, Leinen said. The hospital reports births to the county and that information is then released publicly. The district uses this information to make future predictions on enrollment trends.

"The kids entering kindergarten over the next five years will be 66 kids more per year than the kids who entered kindergarten of the previous five years," Leinen said. "We know what five years is because those kids are already born."

The school district is looking at a projected increase over the next five years of approximately 470 students. When added to the increase in the last two years, the total comes to 772 students, Leinen said. Enrollment patterns beyond a five-year window are speculative, he added, due to the lack of hard data as it relates to live births. Economic factors and state legislation can also play a role in enrollment.

Superintendent James Hess presented to the board nine options on ways to deal with more students. At the end of his presentation, the board discussed and narrowed down the list of options to four options that they would like to be researched further.

The first option, re-configure grade levels, entails assigning grades kindergarten-4 to elementary schools, grades 5-7 to the middle school and grades 8-12 to the high school.

The second option is to build additions onto existing schools. Solway and Lincoln Elementary Schools, for example, were originally built so they could be added onto in the future. However, Hess noted, J.W. Smith and Central Elementary Schools are each more than 50 years old.

The third option, constructing a new elementary school, would likely require the school district asking for voter-approval for a bond.

The fourth option, develop two early-learning centers, would mean remodeling the Paul Bunyan Center, where school district offices are currently held, and building a new early-learning child center somewhere else.

Other options discussed, but which the board decided to not to look into further, were having four-day school weeks, removing all-day, every-day kindergarten, having an extended school year and reopening Deer Lake Elementary School. School board member Ann Long Voelkner suggested the option to purchase or lease modular buildings should remain on the table, but not investigated further.

Public input dates

Hess designated the following tentative dates for public forums to be held. The forums will be 7-8:30 p.m. The locations have not yet been determined by the school board, but Hess said the meetings would take place at an elementary school, the middle school and the high school.

E Tuesday, Feb. 22

E Thursday, Feb. 24

E Tuesday, March 1

E Thursday, March 3

Bemidji School District's elementary schools are very busy and every space is being used, according to Kathy Palm, the district's director of curriculum.

Not only is Bemidji's largest elementary school, Northern Elementary, using every classroom, but it also has had to take its music room and art room and turn them into classrooms. The school now has music and art on a cart.

"When you go there and they are working in small groups, there is no place to work. So they are in the doorways working with kids," Palm said. "They are feeling the impact of more children being there."

The Bemidji School District's Board of Education met in a special work session Monday evening to discuss how to deal with the expected growth in the number of elementary students. They also set aside four dates in February and March to hold public forums on the topic.

School Board Chairman Bill Faver said the school board in March plans to make a decision on how it will solve the space crunch issue.

According to Chris Leinen, the district's director of business services, in the past two years the growth in the number of students in pre-kindergarten to 12th grade has grown from 4,643 to a 4,945.

Future growth is determined by birth rates, Leinen said. The hospital reports births to the county and that information is then released publicly. The district uses this information to make future predictions on enrollment trends.

"The kids entering kindergarten over the next five years will be 66 kids more per year than the kids who entered kindergarten of the previous five years," Leinen said. "We know what five years is because those kids are already born."

The school district is looking at a projected increase over the next five years of approximately 470 students. When added to the increase in the last two years, the total comes to 772 students, Leinen said. Enrollment patterns beyond a five-year window are speculative, he added, due to the lack of hard data as it relates to live births. Economic factors and state legislation can also play a role in enrollment.

Superintendent James Hess presented to the board nine options on ways to deal with more students. At the end of his presentation, the board discussed and narrowed down the list of options to four options that they would like to be researched further.

The first option, re-configure grade levels, entails assigning grades kindergarten-4 to elementary schools, grades 5-7 to the middle school and grades 8-12 to the high school.

The second option is to build additions onto existing schools. Solway and Lincoln Elementary Schools, for example, were originally built so they could be added onto in the future. However, Hess noted, J.W. Smith and Central Elementary Schools are each more than 50 years old.

The third option, constructing a new elementary school, would likely require the school district asking for voter-approval for a bond.

The fourth option, develop two early-learning centers, would mean remodeling the Paul Bunyan Center, where school district offices are currently held, and building a new early-learning child center somewhere else.

Other options discussed, but which the board decided to not to look into further, were having four-day school weeks, removing all-day, every-day kindergarten, having an extended school year and reopening Deer Lake Elementary School. School board member Ann Long Voelkner suggested the option to purchase or lease modular buildings should remain on the table, but not investigated further.

Public input dates

Hess designated the following tentative dates for public forums to be held. The forums will be 7-8:30 p.m. The locations have not yet been determined by the school board, but Hess said the meetings would take place at an elementary school, the middle school and the high school.

- Tuesday, Feb. 22

- Thursday, Feb. 24

- Tuesday, March 1

- Thursday, March 3

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