BIRD ISLAND - Residents in the BOLD School District voiced concerns and differing opinions as the Bird Island City Council hosted a public forum Monday evening on the district's ongoing effort to address major operation and facilities needs.
A 50-member steering committee is expected to bring a recommendation by month's end on the needs. Lacking an excess levy, revenues for its educational programs lag well behind those of neighboring districts. It has meant several years of staff "reductions, reductions, reductions,'' school superintendent Dale Brandsoy told the audience of more than 40.
The superintendent said the district is losing out on roughly $500,000 a year in operational funds by not having an excess levy. Neighboring districts to the east and west have $700 and $1,500 more per pupil, respectively, for educational needs, he pointed out. "But still, we are expected to do the same job and our staff is working hard,'' he said.
The district also faces "a lot of need" in its aging facilities, according to Ryan Hoffman, a consultant to the district with ICS Consulting. The Bird Island and Olivia facilities each have more than $17 million in deferred maintenance needs, according to the company's analysis. The investment would mainly replace stuff that's broken, and would do little to improve how education is delivered, according to Hoffman.
The other option on the table for the steering committee is the possibility of new construction. One option includes a $40 million investment for a new, central campus.
Some attendees voiced fears that a central campus would leave either Bird Island or Olivia without school facilities.
"It's the elephant in the room,'' said Neal Prokosch, a member of the Bird Island City Council. "Bird Island feels under siege. We feel like we are going to lose our school."
The Bird Island EDA has an option on 15 acres of land east of town that could be used as a site for new school facilities, according to Prokosch. The district has discussed options for new construction in Olivia. Brandsoy and Hoffman emphasized that no decisions have been made.
The district needs to address its facility needs in some way or another, according to school board member Jamie Bohlin. "I don't think what we have right now can facilitate the academic needs we have here,'' she said.
Attendees at the forum expressed different views on the possibility of investing in new facilities. "This is a huge amount of money to put on the farm economy at this time,'' said Pat Rauenhorst.
Others voiced support for new facilities, including some who pointed to issues ranging from mold and standing water to a lack of educational opportunities in the current facilities.
Opinions were also divided over the issue of whether to go to a one campus system or maintain the two campus system. The debate over Bird Island versus Olivia is like "running with our shoelaces tied," said BOLD graduate Logan Dahlk, who urged new construction.
"Unfortunately, our buildings are in a state of critical disrepair,'' said Bird Island Mayor Julie Sander, speaking for herself. She urged the district to go slow on bringing a bond request for new facilities to voters, however. The district should explore options with neighboring schools along U.S. Highway 212 before making any decisions, she said.
To date, inquiries to both Renville County West and Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart have found no interest for joining the districts, according to the superintendent.
He said meeting the district's operational needs is the first priority. Attendees noted that the district has faced challenges recruiting instructors due to its needs, and the superintendent acknowledged the same.
However, Superintendent Brandsoy said he was optimistic. "You've got a good system. We've just got to nurture it and get it back on the right page again," he said.