Bezek urges board to act to improve options

by Jim Boyle

Superintendent Mark Bezek told members of the Elk River Area School Board Monday night at a work session that the district needed to stop talking about becoming the district of choice and to start acting.

“I’m worried quite the opposite is happening,” Bezek said in an impassioned talk at the District Office. “We’re starting to be a flight district.

“If we don’t start putting some programs in place, we will become even more troubled.”

Bezek’s comments came after members of the Elk River Area School Board went over a draft of a revised budget for 2011–12 and the latest enrollment projections out of the district’s business office.

When news broke this past fall of enrollment dropping in the Elk River Area School District for first time in more than a decade, eyebrows went up throughout the school district.

Also of concern, school district administrators said, was the kindergarten population was smaller than the graduating class for two consecutive years.

Dropping enrollment has been attributed to charter schools and fewer student move-ins over the course of summers.

The Average Daily Membership for the school district dropped from 12,632 in 2011 to 12,471 to in 2012. That amounts to a 1.28 percent drop. Current projections for the next five years don’t show an increase of more than 0.21 percent.

Bezek said the Elk River Area School District is offering a basic program compared to some schools that are out there. He would like the board to consider moving on some of the options he has been talking about the last few years, ranging from language immersion programs and various magnet schools to more enticing all-day every-day kindergarten options.

“If we didn’t have the Salk magnet and the Rogers Elementary School magnet, we would have even fewer students,” Bezek said. “That’s my gut.”

School board members were led through a planning process to help set the agendas for upcoming meetings. They got hung up when comments surfaced about what the process should be for deciding what district initiatives to pursue.

“Some of these things have been in my goals and visions for three years,” he said. “We need to start acting. We don’t have two to three years to wait.”

Bezek and his administration would like to begin costing some options and discuss the impact of them.

School board members were encouraged to provide their thoughts on what should be pursued, and if they felt there were any bad ideas on the table.

Members finished mapping out their work session schedule, and will have decisions to make about future meetings.

The school board has four types of meetings it’s considering to further its efforts. They are:
•one-hour department briefings,
•two-hour work sessions and special meetings,
•open ad hoc committees that could be formed,
•four- to six-hour retreats.