UPDATED: Bemidji School Board to consider closing Central Elementary, Paul Bunyan Center

The Bemidji Area School Board will once again look at more ways to cut the district’s budget, and once again there are petitions circulating to stop the cuts.

A proposal included in the school board packet includes closing Central Elementary School, the district’s oldest school, and moving these students into other K-3 neighborhood schools.

In a message, Superintendent Tim Lutz said Central Elementary, in the heart of what Bemidjians call “Old Town,” would still act as a bus stop for neighborhood children to get on and off the bus to and from their respective schools.

Lutz is also recommending moving pre-school classes at the Paul Bunyan Early Learning Center to the K-3 neighborhood schools, as well as vacating the current Community Education office building.

An online petition wishing to “Save the Paul Bunyan Early Childhood Center” has already gathered over 1,200 signatures.

Another petition to “Keep Central Elementary School Open” has gathered around 700 signatures.

The district is looking to make over $5 million in cuts to restore their fund balance as well as avoid an operating deficit.

If the district falls into what is called a “statutory operating debt,” the state would come in and make the cuts as they see fit.

Voters in the school district overwhelmingly said “no” to a new operating referendum, which would have given the district at least $1 million more in tax revenue each year for ten years.

The budget woes are beyond the failed referendum, with 280 fewer students this year amounting to a $2.8 million loss in per-pupil formula funding.

The school board packet for Feb. 22 meeting is available here.

The meeting will be broadcasted live on the district’s YouTube channel around 6:30 p.m.

Superintendent Lutz said Monday on KB101’s Chatabout program that no formal action on the shuttering of school buildings will take place during tonight’s meeting. The resolution tonight will be a motion allowing district leadership to make plans, with a formal action anticipated during the March school board meeting.

The author is considered a “non-District employee” with Bemidji area schools, as a seasonal, part-time assistant speech coach.

Today’s Chatabout program is available here:

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