District may hold referendum in August

NEW ULM – The District 88 School Board has yet to decide whether to call a facilities bond referendum – but Superintendent Jeff Bertrang suggested Thursday that, if a referendum is called, an August, rather than a November, election could work better.

Bertrang raised the possibility as he recapped, for the Board’s benefit, last Tuesday’s meeting of a facilities task force.

The task force is considering what, if any, school construction would best serve present and future academic and co-curricular needs of the district, in light of identified space deficits and projected programming and other needs changes.

The task force is closely considering two options. One is building a sizable addition on the Jefferson Elementary/High School campus. This plan would also reconfigure grades among buildings, putting grades 8-12 in the High School, grades 4-7 at Jefferson, and grades pre-K to 3 at Washington School, on the north end of town.

The second scenario – which at present appears to be gathering some momentum among planners – suggests building an entire new high school, with a performing arts and athletic complex, at an unspecified site. This plan would turn the current High School into a middle school for grades 4-7, keep grades 1-3 at Jefferson, and make Washington a complex for pre-school, kindergarten, after-school care and community education programs.

After further refining the options, the task force will recommend a course of action to the School Board in late March.

Bertrang told the Board during a Thursday study session that facilities planning has progressed quite far already. This progress may make it possible and even preferable to put the machinery in motion for a potential facility bond referendum sooner than anticipated until now.

State law allows referendums to be called both at general elections and at primaries, Bertrang said. The next general election in November will be packed with other issues, which may split and deflect voters’ attention from the school issue. From that standpoint it may work better to call the school vote in August. The step would also gain three extra months for design, lining up contractors, etc., if the bond passes.

Calling a referendum comes with statutory deadlines that would require staying on track with prompt decisions.

The primary election is set for Aug. 12.

Future programming updates

During the study session, Bertrang also updated the Board on plans for future programming.

The board has set three new over-arching goals for next year. These goals, broadly, focus on: systematic interventions; innovative programming; and facilities.

Bertrang listed what initiatives each of the district’s three schools is working on, to meet the goals.

Jefferson School is focusing on continuing intervention programs and literacy efforts, he said. Washington School is focusing on small group instruction and RTI (a program to increase reading skills). The High School is going through a review of the vocational curriculum and also working on starting new courses in IT and business, a career investigation program and an intervention model. All sites are also keeping a focus on increasing instructional technology and developing teacher growth models.

Bertrang told the board that he may be making requests for board approval of two new positions next year, to support the sites’ efforts to meet the goals. These positions are an instructional and learning coordinator and an intervention specialist.

Reports on current programs

During the study session, the board also heard three comprehensive reports from other administrators.

Activities Director Chad Eischens reported on co-curricular programming (participation statistics that show numbers remain steady; how programs and coaches are evaluated; etc.).

Early Childhood and Family Education Coordinator Betty Uehling reported on what ECFE programs and special events are offered, how district pre-school programs work, participation statistics, etc.

Newly-hired Kids Connection Coordinator Stef Dietz explained the workings of the Kids Connection program, which is a before and after-school and summer care program.

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