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MACCRAY considering central elementary school

CLARA CITY -- Residents in the MACCRAY school district will be making one of their biggest decisions since the Clara City, Maynard and Raymond districts consolidated in 1989.

Should the district invest $20 million to build a new elementary school attached to the high school in Clara City, and close the elementary schools in Maynard and Raymond?

Or, should the district upgrade its two elementary schools, each of which needs just over $9 million in upgrades?

There are two other options on the table as well, but discussions at public informational meetings held Tuesday in Maynard, Wednesday in Raymond and Thursday in Clara City suggest the focus will likely be on the two choices above.

The other options include living with the status quo, and making costly repairs as outdated equipment and infrastructure fail in the schools. Or lastly, close either the West Elementary in Maynard or the East Elementary in Raymond, and expand and upgrade the remaining school. No cost estimate has been developed for this option.

Elementary School Principal Doug Runia outlined the options to residents Thursday evening in Clara City, where many of the 20-plus attendees voiced support for a central school.

Runia said larger crowds attending the previous two meetings in Maynard and Raymond voiced their concerns about closing the elementary schools, and what that would mean to their communities.

The benefits of a central elementary school are many. The district is calculating that it would save nearly $300,000 annually in operation and transportation costs by moving elementary programs to a new, 89,000-square-foot facility.

The current plan also includes constructing a 500-seat performing arts center at the site, as well as three-practice gyms for athletics and physical education programs.

A central school would improve educational opportunities by allowing more teacher collaboration and mentoring by students in the upper grades, according to Runia.

The proposal envisions a two-section elementary school, based on enrollment projections. The district is being stretched economically by supporting two elementary schools with current enrollments, according to information presented at the meetings.

The district has seen overall enrollment decline from 838 in 2003 to 665 today. Current projections show enrollment flattening out in the 651 to 654 range. There is a 63-student kindergarten class, but there are also elementary grades with enrollments in the 40's, and one with 30 some students.

The district will be retiring its remaining, roughly $612,000 in debt from previous building projects. The district will be adding to the tax rolls the recently incurred debt for $7.9 million in health and safety improvements now being made to the high school building. The net effect on most taxpayers should be a wash as one levy is replaced by the other, according to Lane Schwitters, school board chairman.

Bonding for a $20 million facility would add to the levy. Taxpayers would see a projected annual increase by $97 a year for a $100,000 homestead residential property and $418 a year for a $600,000 homestead agricultural property.

The school board would need to obtain voter approval to obtain financing to build a central elementary facility. The school board would not need voter approval to upgrade the existing facilities under the state's health and safety exemption.

School board members will be discussing the options at upcoming meetings, and are posting information on the school's website. No time frame has been set for a decision, but it could come in time to put the matter to a vote in November.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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