The Bemidji Area School Board voted five to one to close Central Elementary School.
Newly-elected board member Dr. Gabriel Warren was the sole nay vote, while Ann Long Voelkner, Jeff Hack, Jeff Lind, Sarah Young and Carol L. Johnson voted aye.
Superintendent Tim Lutz presented the many different factors that led to this point of needing to cut $5.6 million from their budget, including the failed operating referendum, the state of Minnesota falling behind on funding, as well as transportation, special education, free and reduced lunch counts, and enrollment shortfalls.
Lutz mentioned in his presentation that he hopes that the Central School building can remain a community center under new tenants, but the costs of maintaining the structure as a school would be between $600,000 to $1.6 million in the near future. New lease revenue would offset any repairs needed for a different type of tenant.
The closure of Central is anticipated to save around $465,000 a year, with only a handful of positions eliminated.
Lutz said the school would be still be used as a transportation hub to get the neighborhood students where they need to go, as it has been for decades for upper-grade level students.
Lutz also said the state, if the district falls into statutory operating debt, would make cuts above and beyond of what he is proposing, and the state would very likely inquire why there were two elementary schools within 10 blocks of one another.
In other business, the school board approved increasing fees for athletic activities.
Admission fees for a variety of events, such as games, concerts and passes increased, as did activity fees for high school and middle school sports.
Fine arts fees were recently increased, with a new $40 additional fee due when a student participates in additional fine arts or academic activities beyond the first.
Students who receive free and reduced lunches are eligible for waived fees, and the maximum amount of fees one family will pay is $700, from the previous $400. Activity fees are also waived for dependents of currently deployed military personnel.
Watch the full school board meeting, plus the public listening session, at the district’s YouTube channel.