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Detroit Lakes Public Schools face growing space crunch

Space is quickly becoming an issue for Detroit Lakes Public Schools.

Superintendent Doug Froke told the school board Monday that smaller class sizes isn't a matter of just hiring extra teachers as the elementary schools in the district are pretty much utilizing much of the space they have right now.

The crunch comes as the district is seeing an increase of 40 students from last year.

"Part of what we do is addressing the needs of all kids," Froke said. "The space issue becomes a part of the puzzle and that puzzle gets more and more compacted each and every year,"

Large class sizes are readily apparent at Roosevelt Elementary as most classes have at least 23 students. Class sizes at Rossman Elementary are generally smaller across the board from their counterparts at Roosevelt.

"It's not a case of redrawing the (boundary) lines," said Board Member Terri Boyd of the space issues at the grade schools.

Rossman Principal Sandy Nelson said that his school has room for 25 class sections that are all being used up this year.

Kindergarten is especially tight with the five sections at Roosevelt averaging 24 kids per classroom, while Rossman Elementary's kindergarten is averaging 22 students per class.

Last year at this time, the school board added another section of kindergarten as 215 students enrolled in that grade in both elementary schools, and the magic number to hire another teacher was 206 students. This year's kindergarten enrollment sits at 206 students.

Instead of hiring an additional kindergarten teacher, administrators hope to increase existing paraprofessional hours to help with kindergarten throughout the entire school day.

"With space being a premium, I empathize with those folks (teachers) in that they're busy and full," Froke said.

Adding a section of kindergarten this year would be doable, but tough, Froke said. Just adding a teacher would mean moving several classrooms to keep students in the same grade close together.

At Roosevelt Elementary, the space issue can be improved by finishing two classrooms in the basement where several classrooms were added this year to what was a storage area.

"Do we grab one knowing our storage needs?" Superintendent Doug Frokes, "Or do we grab two?"

But since the class size issues affect both elementary schools, Froke said something needs to be done for future school years.

"You have issues at both places," Froke said. "We have issues we still have to talk about."

Fixing space constraints at Rossman could include leasing space or placing more portable buildings on the grounds.

"One of the things I'm hearing is that we need more classroom space ASAP," said board member Dr. Thomas Seaworth.

Froke said that leasing space in the community is a matter that is at the forefront now.

Just shifting classes, though, isn't a fix, Froke said, as other factors play into the equation besides hiring a teacher and having an extra classroom available.

"You've got special education services, transportation services and lunch," Froke said.

Longer-term needs involve getting stakeholders of the community together to see what needs to be done with either adding on to existing schools or building a new school.

"We'd like to see, maybe when the economy strengthens, we'll look at something down the road," Froke said. "The degree of the growth (enrollment numbers) will tell us where we'll go."

Froke said that new students are welcome in the district and that it's the job of the district to teach them in the best possible learning environment.

"We take kids," Froke said. "The question is where do we go?"