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Big trouble for Waubun Schools

Since the Waubun Secondary School was named one of the lowest performing schools in the state earlier this month, residents have been worried about the federal overhaul options -- specifically, closing the school.

But Waubun-Ogema-White Earth Superintendent Mitch Anderson said he has not received feedback from parents about the issue.

"What's disappointing is, something this big happens and I haven't received a single phone call about it," he told school board members Thursday.

The school was identified by the Minnesota Department of Education as one of 34 schools in the state with the lowest test scores and graduation data.

A federal school improvement plan to restructure the schools by the beginning of next year includes closure and restructure, but Anderson said closing is only an option for bigger districts with more than one school, not Waubun.

"The plan isn't to close the school next year," he said.

Board members will attend a meeting with Minnesota Department of Education representatives Monday at Red Lake to find out what their options are.

They will review the information with the community at a public hearing at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 30 at the Waubun Secondary School media center.

The federal school improvement program will award $34 million to the schools identified, but it's unknown how much Waubun will receive.

Anderson said since closing is not likely to happen in Waubun, either a transformation model or a turnaround model will be implemented instead.

The school will have to meet federal requirements -- removing staff, installing new curriculums and replacing the principal and teachers, or converting to a charter school -- to receive funds.

In the meantime, the news came as a wake up call for Waubun students. They're beginning to take Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment tests seriously, principal Helen Kennedy said.

School officials are also coming up with ways to motivate the students by giving rewards and encouraging them to remediate if they don't pass the tests.

"We need to come up with something that would make these tests mean something to these students," Anderson said. "Otherwise, we'll continue to see the same results."

In other business, the school board reviewed budget containment ideas in light of anticipated state budget cuts.

"We're fairly comfortable getting through this year. The problem comes next year," Anderson said.

He added that this year's statute used to delay state payments in March, April and May could be used again as early as August of next year.

The state will pay back nearly $580,000 by May 30 of this year.

But with a 5 percent decrease in state funding next year -- a worst case scenario -- the district is looking at a shortfall of about $215,000 during fiscal year 2010-11.

Budget containment ideas include saving $50,000 on staff development by using E2T2 grant money. The district received $200,000 through E2T2 (Enhancing Technology Through Education) this year.

A number of capital outlay items, fees for service/supplies, fuel costs that were over-budgeted last year, and classroom attrition could save the district up to $300,000.