Bemidji School Board moves ahead with proposal to close Central Elementary, reconfigure other buildings

The Bemidji School District will continue to look at the cost saving measures of reconfiguring three district buildings.

The board passed a resolution unanimously that would direct staff to examine the school boundaries for neighborhood schools as the district plans to move students and most teachers out of Central Elementary, the district’s longest-running school.

The original 1898 Central School building burned down 60 years later and was rebuilt in the late 50s, making J.W. Smith, constructed in 1956, the oldest building in the district.

One of the biggest concerns surrounding the closure of Central is the issue of equity.

Many of the students in attendance are from low-income families, and over 50 percent of the students are BIPOC.

Central is a walkable school, nestled in a residential neighborhood. Superintendent Tim Lutz said the school will still be used as a bus stop to shuttle children to their new neighborhood schools, and is projecting more efficiencies in transportation.

The Paul Bunyan Early Learning Center would also change purposes, moving the PreK students into neighborhood elementary schools.

The Early Childhood and Family Education, or ECFE, would remain at the Center.

The Community Education building would also vacate, with programming moved into the Paul Bunyan Center to save on overhead.

Lutz also addressed some of the concerns about moving PreK students into elementary schools during the meeting Monday.

All told, this would amount to roughly $840,000 in savings.

A better picture of the numbers and formal action is anticipated for the March board meeting.

The district is looking to make $5.6 million in cuts to restore a positive fund balance and avoid statutory operating debt.

Some petitions are circulating to prevent the measures for the Paul Bunyan Center and Central Elementary.

The district asked voters for additional funding in the November election via an operating referendum, which was overwhelmingly rejected.

In 2014, voters in the district approved a bonding referendum to construct the new Gene Dillon Elementary School.

View the Feb. 22 school board meeting here.

The author is considered a “non-District” employee, as a part-time seasonal speech coach at Bemidji High School.

Larissa Donovan is the News Director for the stations of Paul Bunyan Broadcasting and has been, almost without interruption, since Election Day 2016. She covers all the beats in north-central Minnesota, such as local government, crime, education, environment and social issues. She studied communications at Bemidji State University. You can follow along with Larissa's live tweets of meetings and events on Twitter!

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