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Officials at RCW taking a long, hard look at moving to one campus by start of school year

RENVILLE -- School administrators at Renville County West are confident that the district can consolidate its K-12 programs on the Renville campus by the start of the new school year, and not harm educational programs.

School board members, including two who had expressed concerns about the haste in making such a move, also see little choice.

"We can do this. It can be done,'' said school board member David Hamre in front of 70 or so people at a community meeting Mon- day in Renville about the possibility of a K-12 campus.

"This doesn't save us. It helps us. It does not save us,'' said Hamre to emphasize the fiscal importance of the possible move to a single campus. Unless it wants to deficit-spend, the district will need to trim next year's budget by $280,000, Superintendent Lance Bagstad told the audience.

Closing the elementary school in Sacred Heart will provide savings of $100,400 in fuel and building operation costs, while also helping trim transportation costs by more than $18,000, according to info provided Monday.

The proposal to close the Sacred Heart building and move to a single campus is part of a plan for an expected $325,869 worth of savings.

The cuts will include lots of pain beyond closing the state's oldest (1901) operating school building. Board members will soon be considering a proposal to place five teachers on unrequested leaves of absences.

The staff cuts will produce an expected $164,444 in cost reductions.

Bagstad emphasized that fiscal concerns are driving the proposal for a K-12 campus. The district is expecting to see enrollment decline from 520 students currently to 501 next year, meaning state aid tied to enrollment will decrease. The district expects no increase in the state per-pupil formula due to the state's budget crisis. And, it expects cost for everything from fuel to services to continue upward.

School administrators said academic offerings can be kept on an even keel by moving to one campus, but admitted that it will be a tight physical fit on one campus.

High School Principal Jeff Wilson said the K-12 campus will offer essentially all of its current programs, with a few exceptions. A one-half time Family and Consumer Science curriculum will be replaced by a full-time business program, for example.

Elementary school offerings should remain intact as well, according to Elementary Principal William Adams. He said there will be challenges. Grade six will be reduced to one section of 33 students.

The move to a K-12 campus brings with it the possibility of a return to a middle school program, administrators said.

The move to a K-12 campus will depend on completing roughly $300,000 worth of remodeling at the Renville school this summer, including the installation of a sprinkler system in the 1955 and 1921 vintage buildings. The sprinklers should be installed by Aug. 14, according to school board chairman Darin Bratsch. He said the district could move grades K-6 into the building as the sprinkler and remodeling projects are under way.

He and board members responded to a wide range of questions and comments about the K-12 proposal and budget issues.

Much of the discussion focused on whether the district was moving too fast into a single campus. Some urged that the district delay the move for a year.

Delaying the move would require deficit spending, according to Bagstad.

It would be possible: He said the district has made its way out a statutory operating deficit and has built a small fund balance of just over $500,000.

But he cautioned against spending down the reserve and holding off on making cuts. It will only set the stage for much greater cuts in the years ahead. "It rolls you over, it snowballs,'' he said.

The district will be holding a meeting at 7 p.m. March 17 in Sacred Heart on the proposal to close the elementary school. Board members will decide in late March or early April on whether or not to make the move to a central K-12 campus.