RAYMOND – The Raymond Central Board of Education is considering making some major changes to the district’s current layout that could set the course for its future.
The board assembled on Jan. 5 at Raymond Central High School in a workshop meeting where it discussed the results of a feasibility study that outlines the pros and cons of concentrating all of the district’s facilities on its central campus.
Based on the report — which was conducted by First National Capital Markets — the district can go one of three general routes: renovate and make repairs to the elementary school buildings in Ceresco and Valparaiso; build a new PK-5 facility at the high school site; or construct a new high school building on the existing campus and reconfigure the current high school to become the elementary and junior high building.
At the workshop meeting, five of the six board members stood in support of centralizing the district’s operations, citing a number of reasons — chief among them are potential educational benefits – and concerns that the existing facilities will become overcrowded as the district’s student body grows.
A major concern among the board was the district’s long-term attractiveness to prospective students, particularly as Lincoln’s northern boundaries continue to expand and other nearby school districts such as Ashland-Greenwood make large-scale upgrades to their facilities.
“This is a 20-to-40-year decision, and how competitive are we going to be?” board member Bill Lange asked.
Superintendent Lynn Johnson said regardless of which way the board is leaning, it doesn’t have the luxury to keep the district’s facilities as they are.
“You’re going to have to do something,” Johnson said. “Because we’ve got some elementary buildings, particularly at Ceresco, that need repairs, and the Ceresco population is growing. And we’re burying our heads in the sand if we don’t see that growth coming out.”
At a meeting in October, the board’s Facility Committee pointed out dozens of repairs and renovations that would be necessary at the Ceresco and Valparaiso elementary schools in the coming years if they were to remain in use. Big-ticket items include a new roof at the Ceresco building, estimated to cost over $1 million, and a new HVAC system at the Valparaiso building, totaling $400,000.
Even if the repairs were made at the elementary schools, Johnson noted benefits for teachers and students if the district were to centralize its operations. With the current configuration, some teachers travel from building to building each day to teach PE, music or STEM Tech classes, which takes time out of the teachers’ days and creates communication limitations. Johnson estimated that if the district had its teachers all on one campus, there would be potential for up to three more hours of instruction each day.
“That’s the biggest point — it’s not even money,” she said. “It’s value. I don’t even know what that’s worth.”
A potential drawback to a centralized campus that the board discussed was complications to the current busing system. The number of students needing to be bused to school would increase with the number of students in Valparaiso and Ceresco who don’t currently have to ride the bus to the elementary schools in their towns. Johnson said that would likely lead to having multiple bus stops in each town where students would wait for a bus to take them to the central campus.
“It’s not ideal, but it’s certainly not a deal breaker in my mind,” she said.
Another concern raised was the impact on Ceresco and Valparaiso if they were to lose their elementary schools. School Board Vice President Brad Breitkrutz brought up that citizens in Ceresco and Valparaiso could be worried that their community would lose part of its identity.
And Board Member Cathy Burklund — who is the only known board member opposed to a centralized configuration — suggested that students in Ceresco and Valparaiso would also lose the parts of the curriculum that teaches students about their towns and their histories.
“They walk the town, and they learn what goes on in a town and what goes on in a community,” Burklund said.
But board member Matt Blanchard said the district’s focus has to be on the best interest of the students and the longevity of its facilities.
“I hate to say, but we can’t worry about the towns,” Blanchard said. “We’ve got to do what’s best for our kids. I mean, we’re not in the business to run a town. We’re in the business to run a school.”
If the district were to build a new PK-5 building on the central campus, it would be funded using a $14.3 million bond. And if the board chooses to build a new high school building (which would include a performing arts center), it would use a $25 million bond.
“The choices you have to make absolutely come down to finances,” Johnson said to the board. “But if that is your initial and primary purpose for your decisions, I would tell you, ‘You missed the boat.’ The primary purpose for your decisions need to be about what’s best for our kids.”
Blanchard said it is past time for the district to make some serious upgrades.
“We didn’t buy 67 acres to have an organic farmer farm it,” he said, in reference to Raymond Central High School’s current property.
The board made no decision regarding whether it will build new facilities. The workshop was intended to make a plan for how best to communicate the information in the feasibility study to the public. The board intends to roll out a multi-part informational campaign explaining the benefits of building and plans to hold public meetings where citizens within the district will be able to ask questions and share their opinions. The meetings will also share information on the information reported in the feasibility study.
Sam Crisler is a reporter for The Waverly News. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.