WADENA — In a special working session, members of the Wadena-Deer Creek School Board reviewed plans for facilities, operating fee, registration and technical fees.
Although no action has been taken, these initial talks will be further discussed by the Board of Directors at future meetings.
A series of installation projects have been discussed for several years. Superintendent Lee Westrum said the list was inconclusive. Projects are neither finalized nor approved. ICS Consulting provided cost analyzes of the projects.
“I think it’s a dream list,” board member Kent Schmidt noted at the April 4 meeting.
The current list of ideas includes:
- Track: The track needs surface repairs and cracks. The asphalt underneath might also need to be replaced. The new track, which could possibly be blue, would be good for 8-10 year olds.
- Field lights: With many years of talking about football field lights, posts and add LED lights. The expensive project requires quotes, with an expected project cost of around $275,000.
- Football field bleachers: The wooden bleachers of the house could be replaced by aluminum as well as a new structure for a total of 700 seats. The existing structure is “sound” but architects and engineers need to replace it, according to Westrum. The council hopes to recycle steel to recover the funds. The bleachers are also not ADA compliant, although they passed inspection. The council also joked about leaving the visitors’ stands. The replacement of the visitor stands could include 300 seats.
- Baseball and softball bleachers: New bleachers at baseball and softball fields could be similar to the Deer Creek style with approximately 100-150 seats and an awning. The bleachers would be a “huge improvement,” Westrum said. Missy Seelhammer, board member, suggested the idea of backed seats. The council is interested in it for the first rows. Softball and baseball fields should have the same updates. The updates would cost around $100,000 each.
- Concession stand: The limited concession stand space is difficult for volunteers and students. The booth would grow to a 30×50 space. The board said the cost was higher than expected, at around $250,000. The bathrooms would also get new fixtures and paint, although opening the bathrooms later in the season cannot be avoided due to frozen pipes.
- Metal and wood workshop: The metal and wood workshop space would be doubled to create separate spaces for the two classes. The current store is “limited”, as Westrum put it.
- Playground Updates: New playground equipment for K-2 and at the M State Little Kids Club. There would be a new surface similar to the playground on the east side.
The council also added other project ideas, including adjusting the middle/high school drop-off loop, adding a band and choir auditorium to the high school, shade sails for outdoor play and practice, updating the lights and sound system at Memorial Auditorium and learning more about electric buses.
In his wildest dream, board member Ryan Damlo asked about a “bubble” for sports and music. Activities Director Norm Gallant said the gym space is a staple for practicing spring sports with the weather changing almost daily.
The facilities process takes some time with the facilities committee meetings following. Most facility projects would qualify for long-term facility maintenance funds and would not require a public vote. If the projects totaled $5 million, the tax impact would be $36 per year or $3 per month for a $100,000 home, Westrum said.
The current district operating tax expires after the 2023-24 fiscal year. The last operating tax was approved by voters in November 2017, which increased the tax per student from $513.29 to $863.29.
The district could put the question on the ballot in November 2022 or 2023. The district would have another chance if the levy fails running the question this year. Districts do not do well in general election years because the “casual voter” is unrelated to the school, as Westrum put it. The subsequent election would also allow the board to decide whether to add a facility question.
Westrum said the operating tax affects students “most directly,” including with staff positions and class sizes.
WDC has a “strong record of support here too and our community has been very good”, although factors such as gas prices, inflation, people questioning the vote and property valuations are different now. than in 2017, as Westrum and Schmidt said.
District enrollment has remained steady with an average daily enrollment of approximately 1,000 students since 2012. A few high school students transition to the regional learning center or online classes each year.
Elementary enrollment has increased. Staples-Motley has a smaller kindergarten program, and New York Mills is “overflowing,” according to WDC staff and board members. The size of the families and the geographically small district also have an impact on schooling.
Board members also questioned open enrollment with approximately 110 students enrolling in the district and approximately 250 enrolling. Although the district has invested in the preschool program, families could choose another district based on family or professional ties even before being a student at the WDC, council members said.
The council hopes to continue to retain students, including with programs like REACH. The Relationships, Education, Academics, Character, and Hard Work program provides students with a safe space with their peers and the opportunity to work on personal, academic, and family goals. The program is open to students in grades 7-8 and 9-12. Some program and staff positions are funded by federal coronavirus relief funds.
The REACH program has seen overwhelming positive demand with 60 students registered for next year. Middle/high school principal Tyler Church said class sizes were around 15 students. Learners of English and special educational needs are also increasing at the elementary level.
“The best thing we can do is just try to be the best school we can be and provide everything we can for our kids,” Westrum said.
Westrum offered to add a technical fee to help the number of families fill out the free and reduced lunch form. The technical fee could be $50 per student. The hope is that the fee will be waived as families complete the form. CTO Vince Hinojos added that the charges could show the technology has operating and repair costs.
The Verndale School District has similar technology fees. WDC previously offered free December lunch incentives for families to fill out the form.
The state calculates the district’s compensatory revenues on the basis of the forms. The form also helps fund university programs and hire additional teachers. The district has decreased $401,197.42 in offset revenue since 2020. Districts across the United States have also received free lunches due to the pandemic.