Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Lois E. Johnson
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

Concerned parents address board


April 27, 2017

The audience space was filled with concerned parents at the Barnum School Board meeting on Tuesday, April 18. Most of them were concerned about the proposal for two sections of fifth grade next school year.

Suzy Berger headed up the speakers.

“I am a fifth-grade teacher in Wrenshall but my kids go to school in Barnum,” she said. “Small class sizes make common sense. The schools that perform better are the ones with smaller class sizes.

“When you go to a classroom and look at the heart of it, you see some students struggling. But the classroom is full of students that need your help. Some students don’t master the content. You run out of time to help them because you have to keep the class on schedule.”

Another mother and teacher spoke about the difference having smaller sections made for her child in second grade.

“When she was in first grade, she was under a lot of stress and had headaches,” she said. “She released her stress when she was at home.

“This year made a huge difference when she was in a smaller class. This year, there were less visits with the nurse, less stress and less fighting at home. She was getting the individualized attention she needed. Her enjoyment and self-confidence improved.”

Another mother spoke about the importance of one-on-one needs.

“The area of most concern are the students that come from homes where there are challenges,” she said. “These are young people with futures in front of them. They are in school each year for only nine months, but that can make or break some children.”

Berger became emotional when she spoke of children who come from homes where theyare abused or the parents are on drugs.

“This is how a teacher feels,” she said. “We deal with it every day in the classroom. Issues often lead to behaviors.

“Classes of 27 or 28 kids are manageable. But will the kids be fine?

“We want them to be great, not just fine. I may not have the time for that extra hug they need. They may not get the attention they need with the issues they are facing in today’s world.”

Cora Berger, Suzy Berger’s daughter, presented a paper that had 97 signatures of people that wanted three sections of fifth grade the next school year.

Board Chair Patrick Poirier explained this subject was listed on the agenda to give the parents time to speak, rather than limiting them to three minutes each in the public participation portion of the meeting. He also explained that board members are also parents.

“Forty-two percent of the board has kids in that grade,” he said. “Tim Peterson, Tony Newman and I will have kids in that grade next year.

“But we need to look at it from a business point of view. We have lost 30 students in the last four years. We are deficit spending. The administration recommends going with two sections.”

“Tomorrow night we have to sit down with the teachers for negotiations. We are not sure what we will be getting from the state. It’s hard to know what to do.

It was also brought up that elementary science teacher Rita Johnson is going to retire. Several of the parents spoke about her many years of experience, and that she should be replaced.

“Hiring a teacher to replace Rita (Johnson) would cost $47,000,” said Superintendent Dave Bottem. “We also get $350,000 because of students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches. But now that is $120,000 less because there are less students.”

It was explained there are 163 open-enrolled students at Barnum and that the 30 students lost were from families that moved out of the area.

“It isn’t always about money,” said board member Paul Coughlin. “We invest a lot of money in lunches and teachers. The administration invests in maintaining the building. That drains the budget. We have a net zero budget to work with.

“It is not about dollars versus kids. It is how much can we do with the money that we have.”

Board member Jessica Unkelhaeuser said she asked the fourth and fifth grade teachers for input.

“Rita (Johnson) taught third through fifth grade science,” she said the teachers told her. “Not having her will affect MCA test scores. Gaps in the achievement in the upper elementary are growing. That is a state trend.

“The physical space of the fifth-grade classrooms is tight. There will be more students and less space. There will be less frequency of small group work or for students to work independently.”

“It is a struggle,” said board member Colleen Fetters. “We have to think about finances and what we can do. How do we teach and not lose kids?”

One suggestion from a parent was to hire a paraprofessional instead of another teacher.

Berger suggested hiring a half-time teacher, as had been done in the Wrenshall school.

In a separate item, Amanda Agurkis presented a check for $2,370 for the volleyball program to the board and said she and others are glad to support the coach.

The next meeting of the Barnum School Board is Tuesday, May 16, at 6:30 p.m.


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