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ACGC officials to research restructuring elementary school in Cosmos to offset latest enrollment decline

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news Willmar, 56201
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

GROVE CITY -- Declining enrollment at the elementary school in Cosmos has prompted the ACGC School Board to consider restructuring the K-4 grade school.

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What that restructuring could look like is unclear at this point but potential changes include moving elementary students out, leasing more space to Southwest/West Central Service Cooperative for special education programs or putting different ACGC programs into the building.

At its meeting Monday, the school board instructed the administration to study options and provide monthly reports on their findings.

Changes, if there are any, won't happen until after the 2010-11 school year.

Restructuring doesn't necessarily mean closing the school, the superintendent said.

"I want to keep life there. I want to keep kids there," Sherri Broderius said. "I want to keep it looking like a school."

In recent years enrollment at ACGC South Elementary has been around 120 students. This spring it ended the year with 82 students. That number is unchanged heading into fall.

But after the large fourth-grade class leaves next spring, enrollment is expected to dip to around 55.

Cosmos is one of three building sites in a district that covers 350 square miles. There's also a K-4 elementary school in Atwater, which has 236 students.

All the district's 5-12 grade students attend the junior/senior high school in Grove City, where 464 students were enrolled at year's end. The alternative learning program has 17 students.

In the past, the board has avoided any talk of closing the Cosmos school, in part due to fears students at the far end of the district would open enroll into a neighboring district.

That concern prompted board member Jeanna Lilleberg to ask Broderius to "get some hard numbers" on the potential loss of state aid versus the savings if the building was no longer used as an elementary school and some students left the district.

Given the district's finances and the cost of providing food, transportation, custodial services and windshield time for staff who travel between the three towns, Broderius said addressing the future of the Cosmos school is inevitable.

The board "can't afford to have it off the table anymore," she said in an interview. "We're got to be fiscally responsible."

With the school busy getting ready to implement a four-day school week this fall to save about $64,000, the board agreed to take the next year to study the financial pros and cons of restructuring the Cosmos school.

Meanwhile, first- and second-grade classes at South Elementary will remain separate this year. Because enrollment in each of those grades could be 11-14 students, the administration had considered combining the grades into one class with one instructor, with estimated savings of $55,000.

Parents, however, are concerned about combining the two grades. As a compromise, the two grades will be separate for their core classes but will be combined for art, physical education, music and Spanish.

Broderius said those changes will still save the district about the same amount as eliminating an elementary teacher.

In other action:

* The board agreed to sell general obligation aid anticipation certificates of indebtedness not to exceed $1.3 million.

* The board agreed to support Special Olympics bowling by allowing use of the school name, vehicles, transportation and $1,000 annually for three years. The action was taken after an ACGC student made the request last month.

* The board approved a new contract with the Southwest/West Central Service Cooperative to lease additional space at the Cosmos school for their special education and autism programs that will generate $27,077 in revenue for ACGC. The current contract is for $17,766.

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