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Stimulus money to help ACGC hire kindergarten teacher

GROVE CITY -- The timing of new stimulus funds couldn't have been better for the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City School District.

The district learned this week it will be eligible for about $157,000 from the federal education jobs fund at the same time enrollment figures took a surprising jump that created a need for an additional kindergarten teacher at ACGC North Elementary in Atwater.

A portion of the one-time money will be spent on an additional teacher to be hired before the school year starts Tuesday, Superintendent Sherri Broderius said.

"We're lucky the stimulus money came along just when we needed it," she said.

If the federal money had not been available, an additional section of kindergarten would have been created anyway because of the class size and the district would have had to find the money elsewhere, Broderius said.

That would have been tough for a district that's still struggling to stay out of statutory operating debt.

Starting this year, students will be going to school four days a week as part of a plan to save an estimated $64,000 annually, and the school board may consider moving students from the elementary school in Cosmos to the Atwater school next year to save even more money.

The $10 billion federal stimulus program was designed to save or create education jobs for the 2010-11 school year, although districts have until July 1 of 2012 to spend it all, said Broderius, who advised the school board Monday to be cautious and save some stimulus funds for next year.

"We won't go out on a limb and do something funky with the funds," she said in a later interview. Rules prohibit spending the money on things like administration or contracted bus service.

Minnesota received $167 million, which is being divvied up among districts based on the state's primary elementary and secondary education funding formula.

Broderius was hoping ACGC's allocation would be a bit higher -- in the $220,000 range -- but is glad to get any new funding.

ACGC had expected a K-12 enrollment of about 800. Instead, enrollment jumped to 834.

Broderius had no real explanation for the increased number of students, which were sprinkled throughout the K-4 grades at North Elementary and the 5-12 grades at the Junior-Senior High in Grove City. "It's a very nice surprise," said Broderius. "We're happy to have them."

South Elementary in Cosmos, however, experienced an overall decline in enrollment, dipping to an all-time low of 77 students, with class sizes ranging from 12 students for the second-grade class to 23 students for the fourth-grade class.

The low enrollment at Cosmos is forcing the school board to consider "restructuring" the use of the building.

That could include moving all K-4 grade students to North Elementary in Atwater and using the Cosmos school for other school programs that pay for themselves, such as pre-school programs and the alternative learning program for secondary students. The district may also lease more space to the Southwest/West Central Service Cooperative for its growing autism services program.

Business Manager Dan Tait presented a financial breakdown showing that it costs about twice as much to educate each student at South Elementary than at North Elementary.

Using today's figures, it costs $3,110 in instruction expenses per student at North and $5,537 at South. For operating expenses, it's $688 per student at North and $1,861 at South.

The figures grow more dramatic for next year when South's enrollment is projected to decrease to about 68 students.

The board directed administration to continue researching the issue, including whether there's adequate space at North to house all the elementary students and potential enrollment losses if South no longer operated as an elementary school.

"I come from South. I'm very sentimental about that building," said Chairwoman Judy Raske, who said finances are just one factor of educating students. But she said the enrollment there has reached a point where cost-effectiveness is an issue.

The topic is expected to be discussed during a retreat in November involving the current and new school board members.


Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750