The Park Rapids School Board ended its meeting Monday, May 3 with a second work session about how to move forward with the district’s facility improvement project without a voter-approved bond.

After a two-hour meeting, a last-moment suggestion by High School Principal Jeff Johnson galvanized the board to consider moving up the timetable for changing the way grades are grouped on campus.

Piecemeal prioritization

The board had also discussed the future of “Project 309” at a special meeting on April 26.

Educational consultants Jason Splett and Dave Bergeron with ICS led school board members, Superintendent Lance Bagstad, the school principals and other staff members who were present through a prioritization exercise.

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The aim was to give consultants direction to start looking at options for accomplishing piecemeal what the district’s two failed referendums tried to do with a single bond.

Each participant was given seven “sticky dots” to put on 11 pieces of paper, representing parts of the larger facility plan for which voters rejected issuing a $59.8 million bond in the Nov. 3, 2020 and April 13 elections.

Out of a total of 84 votes, Bergeron reported there were:

  • 13 votes each for grade reconfiguration (moving grades 7-8 to the high school and early childhood classes to Century School), high school classroom renovations (increasing their size and suitability as well as common/breakout areas), and high school fine arts improvements (choir, band and theater).

  • 10 votes each for safe and secure entrances and high school art, agriculture and Alternative Learning Center spaces.

  • Seven votes each for adding a P.E. gym at the high school and a pick-up and drop-off area at Century School.

  • Five votes each for adding classroom space at Century and a bus garage on school property.

  • Two votes for deferred maintenance at the high school, and zero votes for deferred maintenance at Century.

Splett and Bergeron said they will work with Ehlers financial consultants to bring back cost and tax impact scenarios for various combinations of improvements that can be financed by board-approved action, without requiring an election.

Bergeron noted that some of the “low priority” items may be easier to fund with board-approved financing, so their low ranking in the prioritization exercise may not rule them out.

How about right now?

Requesting permission to comment, High School Principal Jeff Johnson suggested looking at what changes the school district can make now to carry forward the goal of reconfiguring the grades.

Johnson urged the board to consider moving eighth grade to the high school this fall, implying that pre-K programs would then move to Century School. He said this would bring the number of students in the high school to approximately 630, while the most the building has ever served was 640.

Johnson said they could achieve this by repurposing space at the adjacent Frank White building, moving classrooms around to add eighth-grade sections to the core subject areas and, if necessary, having some teachers share classrooms.

“Where you push your programming, that’s where people will see the need for growth,” he said.

“Sometimes change needs to happen so that growth can occur,” Middle School Principal Shawn Andress agreed. “What does this look like? What opportunities arise from it? And how do we get better? It’s the cliche: If we always do what we’ve always done, we’re always gonna get what we always got. We have plans. We can make this happen.”

With the board’s consent, Chairperson Sherry Safratowich asked the ICS consultants to map out “What can we do tomorrow” to start grade realignment this fall.