Blue Earth Area: 8th-graders may be moving up to high school

BLUE EARTH – Blue Earth Area took the next step in moving its eighth graders to the high school Tuesday night, and the board approved switching to a new conference for sports and other extracurricular activities.

Following visits to other districts that have moved the eighth graders, numerous meetings with parents and much research, High School Principal Rich Schneider was ready to state his opinion.

“My recommendation is we go forward with moving the eighth-graders to the high school,” he said.

The next step will be Schneider sitting down with Melissa McGuire, K-8 principal, and working out the details, including cost, effects on the staff, how to utilize both buildings and how it will affect the curriculum, he said.

Schneider cited evidence that students do better academically as freshmen if they are already familiar with the high school building and schedule.

Superintendent Evan Gough expected a detailed report to be presented to the board at the January meeting.

Another subject the board has discussed in depth is becoming part of the Big South Conference, a merger of the South Central and Southwest conferences.

On Tuesday, the school board passed a resolution to withdraw from the South Central Conference and authorized membership in the Big South, which will stretch from the western border to Waseca.

“Stability,” is the reason board member Jesse Haugh gave for joining the sports conference.

“In the past, we’ve had some districts explore withdrawing from the South Central Conference,” said Gough. “When you’re a six-member conference, it makes it difficult to be a viable conference.”

Not all of the schools in the conference will compete against each other. Sports and other extracurricular teams will be matched up based on school enrollment.

The Big South will not become active until the 2014-2015 school year.

In financial news, Craig Poppenhagen of CliftonLawsonAllen gave the board a clean audit report.

“The district is basically sound,” he said.

He noted the general fund balance has gone down over the past two years, from $466,396 in 2011 to $41,943 this year, but the district had several construction projects to improve the buildings.

“We’ll expect to see this build up over time,” Poppenhagen said.

The district had been planning for those construction expenses for a while, said Bly. Energy audits had said the air in the K-8 building was questionable.

“We knew we had to do something with the heating and cooling system in this building,” he said. “Thanks to Al Gieser (maintenance supervisor) and his long-range plan.”