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Year-around school, new auditorium on committee's agenda

Monday, January 9, 2006

Everyone welcome to March 27 session

When the Storm Lake Community School District's Citizen Advisory Board was asked to brainstorm for the future of local schools, they didn't fool around.

A performance auditorium. Year-around schools. Unified summer school.

And Superintendent Dr. Paul Tedesco isn't saying "impossible" to any of them, although he notes they come with considerable pricetags.

A performance auditorium is a familiar issue in Storm Lake. The district has long discussed the need for such a facility at the high school, where students in music and theater must either perform in the gym or take their shows on the road to aging South Elementary, which has the only auditorium in the district.

"The thing that brings the talk of an auditorium to the forefront now is the plans for a new elementary school," Tedesco said. "This issue keeps cropping up, and hopefully, there will be more time to commit to making it happen."

When a new elementary communitywide campus opens, there will be little need for the old elementary schools with the exception of East.

South School would stand to be retained only for use of the auditorium, which may "defeat part of the savings" foreseen with a single-elementary system, the superintendent said.

Rough cost figures to construct an auditorium have been estimated around $2.4-$3.2 million, with costs escalating the longer the project is delayed.

However, it will take all of the revenue available from local option sales tax for 10 years, and perhaps a little more, to pay for the elementary school. Tedesco isn't certain where money would come from to build an auditorium in the foreseeable future.

The district would not even consider a bond issue unless it were certain that a high percentage of residents of the district were committed to such a project; to reach that stage of confidence, a lot of public meetings and surveys would have to occur.

The first impulse, if an auditorium were built, would be to add it onto the high school site. It would be possible to include it in the elementary construction, and other options have not been concretely ruled out, although Tedesco stresses that there is no plan in motion at this time.

"(A performance auditorium) is a lofty goal, and, I think, one that the Storm Lake district needs to keep talking about," Tedesco said.

A decade ago, all the talk was that year-around-school would be the future for Iowa education. It hasn't come fast, but then again, it doesn't ring as radical as it did back then, either.

"The new elementary would go a long way toward making year-around school more possible in Storm Lake," Tedesco reflects on the Citizen Advisory brainstorming.

"At that point, two of our three main buildings will be completely air conditioned, and if we continue to add a few rooms every year to be air conditioned at the high school, it would not be long before we are there," Tedesco said.

Most districts that have gone to year around school have adopted a system of six-or-seven-week quarters with three week breaks between and one break of about a month, he said. Many have not included high school in their year-around programs, and most still stick to the 180-day standard school year.

Tedesco is a believer.

"I think it would be very beneficial to have year-around school without that long summer break. Education time is now lost in gearing up for a new school year and having to backtrack and reteach things that have been forgotten from the previous school year," he said.

While having air conditioned schools would remove the major roadblock to year-around 180-day school, Tedesco sees an advantage to expanding the school year beyond the minimum 180 days as well. "In terms of education, it would be a plus. However, there would be extra cost for teachers and staff which is not currently in our budget, and the state tells us it doesn't have the money to help us on that, either."

Educators and the public no longer view year-around school as being "out in left field," Tedesco said.

"I would think it's coming," he said. With so many schools needing to be adapted for air conditioning, and so many schools strapped for cash, however, he doesn't expect to see it become the statewide norm within the next decade.

For the same reasons, summer school is an attractive development both to local school administrators and the Citizen Advisory Committee, which raises a possibility of holding a unified summer school for all age levels run out of the middle school.

"We believe that what we have done in the past few years on summer school is paying dividends, Tedesco said.

While having an all-levels summer school at the middle school would help get building projects done at the other buildings, Tedesco said he would worry about getting younger children safely to the building on the west side of town without buses running. "We are not abandoning South as a summer school site," he said.

About a decade ago, the state started to mandate a Citizen Advisory system. The committee emerged smoothly in Storm Lake, where building advisory committees had been important for years at individual schools. Everyone is welcome. Members are not chosen by election, but based on a desire to be involved.

"We don't get the attendance we would like, and certainly, anyone with an interest should show up," Tedesco said.

The next Citizens Advisory Committee meeting is March 27, 7 p.m., in the middle school media center.



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