Karrie Sadowski, a mother of two students in the Marinette School District, attended Tuesday’s school board meeting to learn more about reopening Menekaunee School as an early learning center. EagleHerald/Mike Desotell
Karrie Sadowski, a mother of two students in the Marinette School District, attended Tuesday’s school board meeting to learn more about reopening Menekaunee School as an early learning center. EagleHerald/Mike Desotell
MARINETTE - After spending the better part of a decade in mothballs, the Marinette Board of Education has decided to reopen Menekaunee School as an early learning center.

The idea surfaced publicly for the first time earlier this month during a board workshop. There, a range of pros, cons and costs were discussed.

A one-time start-up expense of $386,424 is projected for such things as office and classroom furnishings, miscellaneous repairs to the building and grounds, new kitchen and playground equipment, etc.

Ongoing overhead for principal and secretarial salaries, building and grounds maintenance, books, technology, etc., is estimated at $317,526, bringing the total expense for the first year to about $704,000.

The crux of the plan is to have the youngest students, early childhood, 4K and kindergarten, all in one facility. In 2010-2011, the Student Achievement Guarantee in Education (SAGE) program was reinstituted. It allowed for a maximum pupil-to-teacher ratio of 18-to-1 in kindergarten through grade three. Lower class numbers also meant more rooms would be needed.

Moving the kindergarten students from the three elementary schools to an early learning center would provide additional instructional spaces more favorable to effective instruction and leaning.

"That's part of the rationale ... to create better learning spaces in all the elementary schools by moving our kindergarten to the Menekaunee site," said Merryman principal Judy Grace, who outlined the proposal prior to Tuesday night's vote.

The idea of opening up Menekaunee again was sparked after the building was cleaned following an incident that left the interior covered in soot. The district's insurance carrier covered the cost of the repairs and cleanup.

"Some of our administrators who are new to the district were looking around and thinking, 'Why aren't we using this? This is a beautiful facility," said Grace. "We are also thinking this is going to give our 4K and kindergarten teachers an opportunity to do an awful lot of collaboration at the point in the student development when it's so crucial for developing their reading readiness."

Grace said having teachers and resources geared toward the youngest learners all in one place can be a real academic bonus.

The plan is not without a few hitches, one of them being transportation. Grace acknowledged that some parents could have to go to three different drop-off points, but that a bus shuttle service is being looked into.

Only one parent in the audience showed up with questions. Karrie Sadowski asked Grace about several aspects of plan, including why Menekaunee wasn't just reopened as a neighborhood school.

"Just speaking as a mom, I think having a child that is already in school, separating them from their sibling is a little bit heart-wrenching," she said. "I think my kids are going to be together, you know, your older sibling is going to be in third grade, and you're going to look out for your buddy on the playground. That's a little concerning for me."
Sadowski said she also had concerns about the bus shuttle because of the age.

"I think about the neighborhood school as the neighborhood school," she said. "Now my kindergartner has to shuttle on a bus across town when I'm choosing to live two blocks from my school."

Grace assured her that youngsters would be accompanied and supervised by an adult and that the children would be met by their teachers at the bus.

Sadowski agreed the early learning center had positive educational merits but that she felt the whole plan was a done deal and nothing she or other parents could do or say that would change that.

Board member Lee Kunz said there were going to be some unintended consequences.

"But the thing is, it's educationally sound and it's been shown this is a good situation for learning," he said, "and we're looking at how we're going to make the school system better and how we're going to progress and stimulate the school system."

A short time later, the board voted unanimously to reopen Menekaunee School in the fall as an early learning center.

The board Tuesday night also voted to move forward with its summer learning program with a focus on maintaining reading and math skills over the long break.