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Future of Cosmos, Minn., school continues to be evaluated by ACGC school officials

ATWATER -- In response to pleas from parents last year for the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City School Board to do whatever it would take to keep the elementary school in Cosmos open, staff was trimmed and grade levels were combined this year to cut expenses.

But it now appears some parents aren't happy with the changes at the school and don't like how their children are being educated there.

During the ACGC school board meeting Monday, board member Scott Stafford said he's heard complaints about the combined classes and the reduced number of staff at the school.

Superintendent Sherri Broderius said the changes were made "so we could maintain a program down there."

With declining enrollment, the board had considered closing the school in Cosmos. But after public meetings drew large crowds the board agreed to keep it open for at least another year as long as $100,000 in savings or new revenue could be found.

A large section of the building is being rented to the Southwest/ West Central Coop for an autism program, which is bringing in rent money. The cuts in staff at the school have reduced expenses.

Stafford asked when the board would decide if the school was going to remain open another year.

Broderius said there was no deadline for making that decision, but said the question is a topic of every administrative meeting she attends. "It's out there. We're thinking about it at every meeting."

Much will depend on the future enrollment at Cosmos. Some parents opt to send their kids to ACGC North Elementary in Atwater, but some could choose to leave ACGC altogether. Stafford said unhappiness with the restructured program at Cosmos could be the "nail in the coffin" when it comes to parents deciding not to go to Cosmos.

Frustrated by the reported complaints, Broderius said teachers at ACGC South have received special training to teach multi-age classes by using learning centers in the classroom that are popular in combination classes.

She said parents who have concerns should call her or Principal Kodi Goracke.

Stafford also said people are concerned because there's just a part-time secretary at the school, although another school employee answers phones the remaining time.

Broderius said it's difficult to justify having a full-time secretary for 65 students at Cosmos when the high school, with 494 students plus administration, currently has 1.5 secretaries. The elementary school in Atwater, which has 229 students, has one full-time secretary.

Broderius said it's important to keep the dialogue open about the future of the school in Cosmos and to honor the community's wish that "whatever happens, don't board up the school."

She said the autism program is expanding and would likely rent more space if it was available.

Goracke said if Cosmos closed and the students were moved to Atwater it would result in class sizes of 19-20 students.

In other action:

- The board approved the audit report, which showed an increase in the fund balance. The state delay of aid payments, however, will reduce the district's financial flexibility and the board will likely have to increase the amount it borrows next year to make up for the state shift. The board was also advised about a $35,000 loss in the community service fund. Broderius said a number of bad checks is partially to blame, as well as opposition by families to increase fees for programs.

- The board approved a preliminary revised budget with $9,936,870 in expenditures and $10,202,294 in revenues.

- The board was informed that the last 300 pounds of carrots harvested from the school garden were sold to the Dassel-Cokato School District and that the money the sale generated will pay for all the seeds needed for the garden next year.

- Dan Tait, business manager, reported that money from a grant is providing students at the high school and Atwater with a fruit or vegetable snack every day for free. Because not enough students at Cosmos receive free or reduced lunches, that school building didn't qualify for the grant money. The PTO at Cosmos had intended to pay for the snack for those students but stopped after one month because of the cost.

Carolyn Lange

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

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