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Classrooms are already full
By Caroline Downs
Kenmare school board members talked about building needs and potential enrollment numbers with members of the public during a meeting held April 17th to review the district’s long-term demographics plan.
Everyone attending the session received a copy of the plan, which included projected enrollment figures. At this time, school administrators expect the current enrollment of 296 students to grow to 305 students next year, then to 316 for the 2014-2015 academic year and to 338 when school begins in August 2016.
Superintendent Duane Mueller agreed with audience member Ben James that predicting enrollment beyond one year is difficult. Mueller noted part of his estimate was based on the two 12-plex apartment buildings scheduled for construction this summer, making the assumption that two children would live in each unit, and only about 10 percent of the total number of those kids would be high school age.
“I think enrollment at the elementary will be more impacted,” he said.
In fact, enrollment expected at Kenmare Elementary School this fall will necessitate two classrooms apiece in kindergarten, second and third grades. First grade will need only one teacher at this time.
The ND Department of Instruction currently recommends additional teachers for classes of 24 or 25 students in grades kindergarten through three and for classes of 30 students in grades four through six. The maximum number of students recommended for classrooms in grades seven and higher is 35.
The district also projects a need for more teachers in the next five years, growing from the current staff of 30 to as many as 39 by the 2016-17 school year.
To accommodate the demand for classroom space in Kenmare this fall, the third grade classes will be moved to the high school. “But let’s say we get five first graders next year,” Mueller added. “We have nowhere to go.”
Audience member Fay Froseth asked if the board was considering purchase of a portable classroom for the following year. “I’d say we’d have to make a decision by Christmas time to be ready for next fall,” Mueller said.
“We have looked into them,” said board president Lars Christensen. “They [cost] $160,000, and $160,000 goes a long way toward an addition.”
Board member Craig Ellsworth mentioned a problem with the availability of used portable classrooms. “The demand for used ones has increased because of damage [to schools] caused by different storms around the country,” he said. “When we checked, only new ones were available.”
Froseth also asked about the district’s interest in providing housing for teachers, both as a way to entice teachers to apply in the district and as a way to encourage a stronger connection to the community.
Board members said they had considered it and agreed affordable housing was a problem. “Mostly, though, we’re leaving that up to individuals at this point,” said Mike Zimmer.
Christensen said he believed the state legislature would pass some sort of tax break to encourage more affordable housing construction projects.
Superintendent Mueller clarified information about the facility use as presented in the long-term demographics report. According to the report, the high school is currently being used at only 50 percent of its capacity.
Mueller explained that all space, including the commons area and auditorium, had to be calculated for facility use. “But it’s deceiving,” he said. “All the classrooms up here are full.”
Rodin mentioned that Kenmare High School housed up to 60 students per classroom at one time.
“But now there are so many more components,” Froseth said, listing services including title reading programs and speech-language classes. “People don’t realize we have different needs we have to meet.”
New gym discussed
Zimmer, as Building Committee chairman, pointed out the proposed facility upgrades in the demographics plan were not listed in order of priority.
Replacing ceiling tiles in the high school commons and office area is the top priority, followed by updating the heating system at the high school with an electric hot water heat system and adding classrooms for the elementary students.
The possible addition of a new gymnasium with those classrooms is actually fourth on the committee’s list. “And we’re hoping to fund as much of that as possible through private donations,” Zimmer said.
The discussion turned toward that proposed gymnasium, however. Board member Michele Nelson explained the new gym would allow all sports practices to be held in Kenmare so the district wouldn’t pay rent to the Donnybrook Community Center gym or to transport students for practices there.
She also noted the second gym could be used by elementary students for recess during inclement weather and sports practices could be held there while other school events were taking place in the current gym.
Building Committee member Jan Kostad said the group was waiting for an architect to complete a basic sketch of the design before any costs or further plans could be determined. “There’s been some talk of a wellness center there, with X-number of square feet that could be used by the community,” he said, “and we could maybe add four to six classrooms.”
Kostad explained the committee’s idea to build a “shell” that would eventually house the gym and classrooms, with specific rooms getting finished over time rather than all at once.
He agreed a second gym would alleviate some problems with using other practice space in Donnybrook or Kenmare. “The facility in Donnybrook is in need of repair,” he said, “and sometimes we have a conflict with using the Memorial Hall because of all the other public activities going on there.”
Committee member Lenny Rodin acknowledged the wellness center could be an expensive component, but he noted the importance of simply starting with an idea for the project. “If we could raise $500,000, it could be close to happening,” he said.
Audience members Ben and Robin James, who assist with the peewee wrestling program in Kenmare, agreed more space would be helpful and safer for wrestlers using weight training equipment or storing other equipment. They suggested the district consider hiring additional custodial staff to care for the extra area and assist the public when using the facility.
“What I’d like to see on a wish list for the gym is a second level walking and running track,” said Ben James, “something that would not disrupt [practice or events] on the playing surface. They have a walking concourse in Crosby.”
Froseth returned to the idea of classroom space. “I hope if you go ahead with the gym, you implement classroom space into that area,” she said.
“I would have a hard time building anything without putting some classrooms in,” Christensen answered.
Audience member Becky Stroklund raised the issue of hiring a third administrator as an elementary principal. The long-term demographics plan calls for a full-time elementary principal and a full-time superintendent within three years. Presently, Mueller serves as elementary principal one-third of the time and as superintendent two-thirds of the time.
Mueller said he and the board would discuss the possibility of hiring an elementary principal next year. The elementary school enrollment would need to grow to 240 students before the district would be required to hire a full-time administrator there. Mueller would like to see it happen sooner, especially given the number of students with special needs and the additional assistance provided to preschool students.
“Another factor is having two different school buildings,” Ellsworth said. “When Mr. Mueller is [at the high school], there’s no administrator present at the grade building.”
Impact of Measure 2
and other discussion
Other topics briefly discussed during the meeting included school building security, the possibility of adding bus routes to shorten ride times for young students, and the addition of hockey to the school sports schedule.
School administrators and board members briefly noted the potential impact of Measure 2, a initiated measure to eliminate property taxes that voters will decide in June, on any plans for the district.
“Measure 2 makes it awfully hard to plan anything right now,” said Christensen.
“Until we know what happens with that vote, there’s not a lot we can do,” added business manager Renae Murphy.
Board members took no action during the demographics meeting. The meeting is held every two years, as required by state law.