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Somerset School Board discusses options for expansion

Space options was the hot topic at the Nov. 16 meeting of the Somerset School board.

Tim Witzmann, board president, brought up several options that were brainstormed at the board's Big Idea Meeting held Nov. 9.

"What we need to do as a board is to make a decision and advise the administration on how to address the space needs," Witzmann said.

Because all three buildings are operating near or above capacity, the board came up with several alternatives at the prior meeting for each building.

Elementary school options for two additional classroom spaces:

• Rent portable classrooms

• Add on to the building

• Eliminate junior kindergarten

• Move junior kindergarten off campus

The board discussed all the options and decided to add two more options:

• Increase class size

• Build a separate building just for junior kindergarten and kindergarten.

Cherrie Wood, elementary school principal, said portable classrooms would be only a temporary fix.

"That would only help us for the next three years or so," Wood said.

It was suggested that since the junior kindergarten does not use the art rooms, music rooms, gym or lunch room, that they would be more inclusive and therefore a better candidate to move off-site. After rejecting the idea of moving the junior kindergarten to the high school, Robert Gunther, board member, suggested comparing the cost of renting a portable classroom versus a free-standing building that could be added on to in the future.

"It just doesn't make sense to spend around $90,000 for a portable," Gunther said.

Middle school options for utilizing the space more effectively:

• Build a classroom in the Burgundy and/or Great rooms

• Move computer labs into the Burgundy and/or Great rooms

• Purchase two additional Computer on Wheels (COW) labs (which could not be used for MAP testing)

Witzmann said he believed the students and staff would prefer the third option if given the choices.

"I think they would probably do that," Rick Lange, middle school principal, agreed. He also mentioned that getting COW labs would take less time than building a classroom.

High school options for increasing space:

• Could get by next year by adding a COW lab

• Staffing with some creativity and flexibility by rotating and sharing space

• Move administrative offices to portables

• Continue to adjust for space needs by bringing students out of the high school facility and sending them to the middle school building

Shawn Madden, high school principal, said his least favorite option would be to add portable classrooms, but that it should be added to the list.

Marie Colbeth, board member, suggested clarifying that the administrative offices to be moved would be only the district offices.

"Those could easily be moved off campus and the (vacated) space could be given to special needs," Colbeth said.

The board decided meet on Dec. 7 at 7 p.m. to discuss the amended options lists. By then, Randy Rosburg, superintendent, will get cost estimations for the suggestions made. Witzmann said he hopes to narrow the options down to one per building at that meeting.

In other news:

• Sheryl Johnson, second grade teacher, was recognized as the 2009-10 Elementary School Teacher of the Year.

• Deb Cardell was recognized as the 2009-10 Middle School Teacher of the Year.

• Rebecca Olson was recognized as the 2009-10 High School Teacher of the Year.

• Cheryl Ek was recognized as the 2009-10 Special Education Teacher of the Year.

• Charles Ennis, health aide at the middle school, was recognized as the 2009-10 Support Staff Employee of the Year.

• Mike Connor, board member, told the board that for the first time the Veterans Day program was able to go to both the high school and middle school. He said it was a great success.

• Johanna Smith, senior student liaison, reported that the prom theme this year will be "Dreaming at Dusk" and the cost will stay at $18 per couple, as it has in the past.

• Madden reported that several of the students and staff attended a "Feed My Starving Children" event in Eagan. Similar to the Empty Bowls project, this event had people packaging food for people in Zimbabwe.

• The middle school band concert is scheduled for Dec. 10

• The Somerset Middle School Student Council is sponsoring a winter semi-formal dance for the seventh and eighth grade on Dec.18.

• Board members were treated to a simulation of the MAPS testing via the Smart Boards and the data collected. Catherine Cranston, board member, said her teachers only had two hours per month allotted to analyze the data. Witzmann likened it to "having a great vehicle, but no time to drive it."