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LP-A takes a closer look at remodeling schools

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news Detroit Lakes, 56501
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

In an effort to make clear to the public the state's position on remodeling a school versus building new, the Lake Park -Audubon School Board will play host to a key decision-maker with the Minnesota Department of Education.

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John Ryberg will be at the high school theater in Lake Park at 6 p.m. May 6 for a special meeting with the board and community members.

As a neutral third party, Ryberg will be able to let community members know if the district's cost estimates for repairs and renovations are reasonable and meet state standards for approval.

The district is considering a plan to spend $16.9 million at the high school site, including demolition of the oldest portions of the school, renovation of newer portions, and new construction to the north and east, said Superintendent Dale Hogie.

The revamped building will offer students 135,000 square feet, including 87,000 square feet of new construction, and serve grades 5-12.

Alternately, the board is looking at a new school that would be 115,000 square feet. The smaller size is due to efficiencies associated with new construction -- mostly the absence of long hallways at the existing site.

The new school will serve grades 5-12 and is projected to cost $17.1 million. It would include a football field and running track.

"We've ruled out options in the past -- people were concerned about us not giving a thorough review to all options -- we are doing that now," Hogie said.

At the elementary school site in Audubon, the 1922 portion would be demolished and grades pre-Kindergarten through 4 would stay in existing classrooms. The district would spend $1.5 million to $2 million on the project, including improvements to the heating and ventilation systems at the grade school.

"If the state demographer's projections come to pass and enrollment goes up significantly, we can always go back to a 7-12 high school and renovate the Audubon site back to a pre-K-6," Hogie said.

Soil borings will be done at the Lake Park site to see if the expansion plans are feasible. Some street closures in the vicinity of the high school may be part of the picture.

"Any direction we go (with the expansion) will have problems," Hogie said. "We just need to find a solution our community can support."

The overall cost of the project would be $6 million-$7 million less than the plan for a new 7-12 school in Lake Park and improved elementary school in Audubon defeated by voters in December.

If the board opts to try again for a school building bond, it will consider hiring a communications specialist to answer questions and serve as the public face of the project. The vote would likely be held in November at the general election.

In other action, the LP-A School Board on Monday:

-- Saw a presentation on a new reading program used this year by first- and second-graders and designed for use through the fourth grade.

The "Differentiated Instruction in Reading" system takes existing methods and uses them in a new way, including rotating teachers -- the kids go from classroom to classroom -- and using motion to enhance learning. In one drill, kids were walking in single file around a table and reading out loud. So engrossed were they that they didn't miss a beat when the teacher had them switch directions.

The system incorporates five Big Ideas -- a sort of pre-phonics, called phonetic awareness (the ability to hear and manipulate sounds or phenomes), phonics (letter sounds blended together to make a word), vocabulary, comprehension and fluency.

Kids receive a daily 110 minutes of reading skills, including a half hour of core reading instruction and four 20-minute blocks of Big 5 rotation among first-grade teachers Kristen Frank and Stacey Stalberger and second-grade teachers Shana Schwan and Stephanie Schoenfelder.

The system, designed to make sure under-performing readers aren't left behind, was shown to improve reading skills across the spectrum -- it improved reading skills for gifted and average kids, too, the teachers reported.

The downside was less writing time for the first- and second-graders, or writing instruction shifted to the less-productive afternoon hours.

Studies have shown that kids with higher reading skills do better in all areas of education in the long run, so it's worth putting the extra time into reading in the early grades, Hogie said.

It is hoped that catching kids who are lagging behind in the early grades will result in fewer referrals to special education down the road, he added.

Board member Vicky Grondahl thanked the teachers.

"This would not have happened if you had not embraced this and really taken it to heart," she said. "I'm proud of our staff and very proud of our kids."

The four teachers will be traveling to the Barnesville School District in the next few weeks to give a presentation on the system.

-- Approved the fiscal year 2008 budget. The district expects to end up about $19,000 over its $6 million budget, mostly due to 2 percent employee pay hikes and high fuel prices for buses and high heating costs for buildings this winter, said Hogie.

-- Considered a three-year audit agreement with Eide Bailly of Fargo. The district's fiscal year 2007 cost was $10,600. That would increase to $11,100 in FY08, $11,600 in FY09 and $12,200 for FY10.

At the suggestion of Board member Rick Olson, the district will negotiate for 2 percent annual increases rather than the 5 percent proposed.

Observer George Kohn of Audubon warned the board against approving the three-year contract, saying one year should be sufficient, since the board makeup could change after the November election.

-- Approved an "Instant Alert" service offered by Honeywell. The service "provides a rapid, effective way to connect schools to parents," according to the district.

Families choose how they want to be notified (cell phone, home phone, work computer, home computer, etc). The annual fee of $2.30 per student ($1,449) covers set-up, training, trouble-shooting, upgrades, help with loading databases and unlimited messages.

The system will replace notifications sent to parents by mail. Each mailing eliminated saves the district $250. The system has worked well at other school districts, both for emergency closures and routine notices, Hogie said.

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