Pequot Lakes School District patrons will be heading to polls on Tuesday
PEQUOT LAKES — Enrollment at Eagle View Elementary School in Breezy Point grew from 695 students last year to 730 students this fall, an increase of 35 students.
Thirty-five students may not sound like many, but Principal Don Lenzen said the additional students can be felt not only in the kindergarten through fifth-grade classrooms but throughout the building, in the hallways, the cafeteria and media center. And student enrollment, especially in kindergarten, is expected to continue to climb.
In recent years Lenzen has had to eliminate or reduce programming for elementary students because the school needed spaces for regular classrooms.
On Tuesday, Pequot Lakes School District voters will head to the polls to decide on a $33.175 million bond referendum. The proposed referendum, with costs spread over 23-1/2 years, would be used for necessary repairs, such as replacing a broken boiler at the high school and repairing the high school roof and track, and would also alleviate space needs at both the elementary and high school buildings.
If the building bond passes, it may only be used for building projects, not wages or benefits.
This is the second time school board members have asked taxpayers to support this building bond. It was voted down last summer by 1,087 no votes to 822 yes votes. Payment of the bond referendum would include seasonal properties, unlike operating levies in which seasonal/recreational properties are not included.
The annual tax impact on a home valued at $100,000 would be $23, or $1.92 per month.
With overall student enrollment projected to grow throughout the Pequot Lakes School District — an anomaly compared to many neighboring districts — Lenzen said he’s running out of places to put them all. The problem is the same at the middle and high school. The district has 1,614 students in grades kindergarten through 12th grade, up from 1,227 students in 1998, a 32 percent increase.
The elementary school had a large kindergarten class of 123 students enroll this fall, the last three of the four years have had the highest number of kindergartners enrolled ever in the district.
To make room, the school has lost four classrooms that were intended to be used school-wide. One of two computer labs has been converted to a kindergarten classroom, which means students who used to have computer classes two or three days a week now have computer lab once a week.
The remaining computer lab with about 30 computers is now used by about 730 students.
Now in each Discovery Area — the open area outside the grade level classrooms that house student lockers — there are about eight computers where teachers allow students some computer time but it’s not nearly the same, said Lenzen. The eight computers in the Discovery areas are shared by about 100 students in each grade but don’t allow entire classrooms to have computer instruction at the same time.
“We’re making use but we have had to give up a lot,” said Lenzen. “We’re in a time when technology is so important in the education of kids, using computers to get information. We’ve had to give that up and I think that’s a huge cost.”
Would closing open enrollment help? No, said Superintendent Rick Linnell. The district has 317 students who have open enrolled from neighboring districts and 264 students who open enroll out of the district, including those who attend Central Lakes College as post-secondary students. This is a net gain of about 53 students, which averages out to about four extra students per grade.
Lenzen pointed out that there are nearly 100 students who attend Crosslake Community School. If that school suddenly closed, he said the district probably couldn’t handle the influx of those elementary students.
Lenzen said he has spoken with many parents moving into the lakes area who decided to relocate to the school district after visiting Eagle View.
“The demographics say we’re still going to grow,” said Lenzen. “We’re unique in the state. Quite frankly, people come here and see the school and say this is where they want to be.”
Lenzen said a few years ago Eagle View’s science classroom was converted to a regular classroom, which means students no longer have a place to go for science projects, such as those that require microscopes and other science teaching tools. A locker room is now a book room and a lab room in the media center has been converted into a regular classroom. A Title 1 reading program is housed in a closet.
Next year, if the referendum is rejected by voters, it is very likely that the music and art classrooms will be the next to go. Music and art curriculum will be placed on carts and travel from classroom to classroom.
“These are not good decisions, these are bad decisions we have to make because we don’t have the space,” said Lenzen.
When the district built Eagle View, it had four- to five-section grades. Now the school has five to six sections in each grade level. Linnell said space is constrained at the middle and high school and programming, like physical education, may have to be reduced for students because of limited space. The cafeteria and commons area are overcrowded at lunch time, which would be alleviated if the referendum passes and the middle school gym would be converted to a larger lunch room.
Linnell said Thursday that he’s “cautiously optimistic” about the referendum being approved by voters on Tuesday.
JODIE TWEED may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5858.