Local News

Petersburg student decline stops for a year

As school officials predicted, student enrollment numbers in Petersburg increased this year. It’s only the second year in the past 15 that the local school district has not seen a decline in student numbers. Petersburg’s school board heard updates on the student count and other issues at a meeting last week.

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The official count for the district’s three schools is 451 students this year. That’s up from 426 the year before. Superintendent Rob Thomason broke down the numbers Tuesday. “156 at the high school, 97 at the middle school, 198 at the elementary school,” he said. ‘”(A)bout on track to where we hoped to be, budget’s in good solid shape so. We always want more youngsters so if anyone’s interested in moving to Petersburg, we have room.”

Student numbers impact state funding and the district’s budget. This year’s increase is due to the graduation of a small senior class last spring and a kindergarten class of 44 students.

“And I did notice under enrollment figures that we have 44 in kindergarten and the next class and all the classes above that up til seventh grade are smaller than that and so that’s a wonderful bump,said board president Jean Ellis. “Very happy to see that. Grade seven has 45 but everything else between kindergarten and seventh grade is quite a bit lower than that. Good to see, keep those kindergartners coming.”

With the exception of the 2003-2004 school year, the three local schools have seen a combined decline in student numbers every year since enrollment peaked in 1998. The board will consider a budget revision based on this year’s student count at next month’s meeting.

In other business, the board heard an update on the planned replacement of windows, walls and insulation at Rae C. Stedmen Elementary School. The project is ranked third on a state Department of Education priority list for major maintenance grant funding.

“And what it is is replacing the curtain wall system that’s in the elementary school with no insulation to thicker walls with a lot of insulation, new windows all the way around, double pane or maybe even triple pane we haven’t decided,” said maintenance director Tye Petersen. He was asked whether the current windows are single pane. “They’re single pane yes, and throughout the whole school the outside walls will be super insulated and the floor will have more insulation, taking care of an old problem there,” Petersen said.

An architect discovered flammable insulation under the building this year and called that problem an unacceptable life safety danger to the occupants of the school.

Petersen said the project will also mean new radiator heat piping and digital controls for the heating system, will replace original equipment and materials from the construction of the building in 1968. The district is hoping for the state grant money to help pay for the project but the local district will have to come up with matching funds of 30 percent of the project cost.

Superintendent Thomason said the goal was to do the project without issuing a bond. “Like I said it’s a 3.1 million dollar project, 70 percent from the state, 30 percent from the local and so we’ll be working closely with the city, cause our responsibility at the local level is about 900-thousand dollars I think. And we have some of that in our capital improvement budget at the school district and we are hoping some of that will come out of our Secure Rural Schools fund that has built up more than expected over the years,” Thomason said.

The district will not know about the state funding until after the legislative session in 2013. Because of that, it’s likely the work would not happen next summer, but in 2014 at the earliest.

In related news, the board directed staff to look into updating a survey of the condition of the three schools. The board also approved a calendar change for this school year. Two in-service days for staff training planned for Feb. 28th and March 1st will be moved to April 18-19th.

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