Hoping for feedback from the ‘no’ voters, DL School District sets more listening sessions
Back in November, Detroit Lakes school district voters shot down a bond referendum for a proposed $59 million school construction project.
To increase their chances of a successful referendum the next time around, school board members are hosting a series of “listening sessions” in order to better focus their planning efforts.
“After the failed bond referendum in November, we heard from a number of people who said they wished they would have had more opportunities to provide input (on the bond project),” said Detroit Lakes School Board Chair Ladd Lyngaas.
So the board decided to provide just that: More opportunities for input from the public.
The first “listening session,” held in January, did not have the attendance they had hoped for, Lyngaas said.
About 50 people showed up for the Wednesday night session, in part due to the poor weather, and in part due to failure to “get the word out” to enough people to draw a big crowd.
“This time we are planning to have a number of these public listening sessions,” Lyngaas said. “Hopefully, they will be well advertised and can get better attendance and input from the public.”
The first of these sessions is set for this coming Saturday, March 29, at 10 a.m., and a second is planned for Tuesday, April 1 at 6:30 p.m. Both sessions will be held at Rossman Elementary School.
The main purpose of the sessions is to help the board determine where they should focus their planning efforts. “We need a plan that meets the needs of the school district, but is also something the voters will support,” Lyngaas said.
The setting for the sessions is no coincidence: One of the biggest pieces of feedback gleaned from the January listening session, and other input board members have received since then, is that the community doesn’t want to lose its “neighborhood school” at the Rossman site.
The November referendum project included plans to relocate the district’s community education, latchkey and early childhood programs, as well as its administrative offices, to the Rossman site, and construct a new elementary school on the northern outskirts of the city, on a site adjacent to its industrial park.
It was this part of the plan that seemed to meet with the most resistance, Lyngaas noted.
“The thing we’ve heard from a number of people is they really want to keep Rossman as a neighborhood elementary school,” he said.
Yet space — or lack thereof — in the district’s elementary facilities remains an imminent problem in need of a solution.
“We certainly have space needs,” Lyngaas said, noting that currently, half of the district’s fifth grade students are housed at Rossman Elementary, and the other half are at the Middle School, due to space constraints at the Roosevelt site.
“When we had our work sessions before the last referendum, people were very clear that they wanted all of our fifth graders (to be housed) in an elementary setting,” he said.
Another big issue is a lack of adequate gymnasium space for the district’s elementary students.
“With the number of elementary students and special education students we have in the district, we’re at an extreme shortage of gym space to provide the kind of phy ed time we feel our students need, so they can have phy ed every day and not be crowded,” Lyngaas said.
As an example, the small gymnasium at the Roosevelt site is currently accommodating two phy ed classes at the same time, “Which makes it difficult for our phy ed teachers to accomplish what they want to accomplish with their students.”
There is also a need for “more flexible learning spaces,” Lyngaas said, where teachers can accommodate both their gifted and talented students, with accelerated learning needs, and those who need additional help in achieving their learning objectives.
There are also several safety and security issues that need to be addressed, he added, such as the traffic congestion and traffic flow issues at the adjacent Roosevelt Elementary and Middle School sites.
“It’s not just about parent frustration, it’s about the safety of our students,” Lyngaas said. “We need to have separate areas for bus and parent pickups and drop-offs, where they’re not crossing over. These are small children, and we certainly would never want to have an accident where a student ran out in front of a bus or a car.”
All of these are pressing issues that will need to be addressed at some point in the near future, Lyngaas noted. The point of these listening sessions is to determine what direction the public would like to see the board take in finding some solutions.
“We heard from over 3,000 voters at the election in November,” Lyngaas said — yet the listening sessions held so far had an average attendance of about 50 people.
“We’re only hearing from a small segment of the population — we really would like to have a larger turnout at these meetings.”