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GFW board proposes to close Fairfax school

Staff photo by Fritz Busch Leander Nachreiner of Fairfax asks for a true-cost analysis of a school bond referendum at the GFW (Gibbon Fairfax Winthrop) board during a public comment period at the board meeting in the Fairfax school auditorium Monday night.

FAIRFAX — By a 3-2 vote with one board member not voting Monday, the Gibbon Fairfax Winthrop (GFW) Board of Education proposed to close the Fairfax school beginning with the 2020-2021 school year.

Action came on a motion by Winthrop board member Phil Klenk, seconded by Winthrop board member Mike Kuehn. Klenk, Kuehn and Gibbon board member Jason Haas voted for the closure proposal.

Fairfax board members Marisa Lee and Becky Vos voted against the proposal. Gibbon board member Kelsey Odegard did not vote on the measure.

A public hearing on the closure proposal was set for 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 4, in the Gibbon gym. The board is expected to make a final decision on the proposal after the hearing.

Earlier in the meeting, a number of people voiced their opinion on the school district facing a number of issues including statutory operating debt (SOD) and a potential bond referendum.

“I encourage the board to unite GFW in all discussions and be creative,” said Harlan Helgren, Frandsen Bank & Trust President in Fairfax.

Corey Albrecht, a GFW graduate and senior at Augustana College, recommended National Honor Society (NHS) students evaluate teachers.

“I hope you take it seriously because it’s an issue,” Albrecht said.

Curt Olson of Gibbon urged the board and three communities to “re-tool.”

“We need to keep it (the school district ) going. Our kids are our future. We’ll pay taxes no matter where we go,” Olson said. “I prefer one school. We need people to do hands-on stuff. Don’t close a school. Re-tool it and come up with a plan.”

Liz Freitag of Fairfax said the issue of closing a school will be the most important decision the board will have to make.

“Closing a school with the best gym (Fairfax) is not good. It’s the only gym big enough to host tournaments,” Freitag said.

“It’s important to all of us. Together,” said GFW Elementary computer teacher and technology coordinator Wade Werner.

Leander Nachreiner of Fairfax asked for a true-cost analysis of the issues facing the school district.

Board member Becky Vos suggested considering a one-school referendum with less of a land purchase than the referendum that was turned down last fall by about 200 votes. She also suggested considering keeping the Gibbon school and constructing a new school building.

“We need to come up with something and fast,” said Gibbon board member Jason Haas.

“Fairfax has the most land available. It’s the cheapest option.” Fairfax board member Marissa Lee said.

The board tabled action on a potential bond referendum and plans to act on a SOD plan at a Tuesday, Jan. 28, special meeting.

Superintendent Lonnie Seifert said the school district is about $550,000 in debt and needs to reduce costs over the next couple years.

“The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) said we need to show significant budget reduction progress and they will work with us,” Seifert said. “Additional deficit spending won’t sit well.”

Seifert said mold issues caused the closure of a sewing classroom in the Winthrop school. He said staff lavatories in the Fairfax school are out of order due to a plugged drain line that requires tile and cement to be removed to access the line.

Fritz Busch can be emailed at fbusch@nujournal.com.

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