Minnesota’s Seventh District Congresswoman Michelle Fischbach visited Minnewaska Area High School last week to be part of a discussion on a few challenges the district faces. Much of the conversation was focused on the childcare issue that the entire community is facing. 

Superintendent Chip Rankin began by explaining to Fischbach that the non-profit daycare needs a home. “There are 96 kids that right now have nowhere to go after March 1, 2024.” The tentative project is set to cost an estimated $9 million. A grant has been submitted to cover $3.2 million through the USDA. This grant, however, is not retroactive and has a two-year timeline for payment. “To get this completed on time, we need to start building by July 1 of this year,” stated Rankin. 

The current plan that the school district is working toward creates space for 160 daycare placements. The original plan that was made by Lakes Area Child Enrichment independently was set to cost $3.5 million but would only hold 106 spots. The plan the school district is proposing would add the childcare center to the elementary school location in Glenwood. 

“That touches on the two problems with daycare. One, where does it go? And two, operational costs moving forward. Accessibility and affordability are the two issues. The loop makes it difficult for businesses and the school to maintain a full staff and enrollment,” stated Ted Reichmann, MAS board member.

“With the issues you’re experiencing, you’re not alone, everyone is having the same issues,” stated Fischbach, “and I want to make sure to have it right; they had a plan and were asking for $3.5 million?” This was confirmed during the meeting. “Could the school district buy that building and run it?”

The school board members explained the situation with Lakes Area Enrichment Center and the expected loss of their facilities and the steps in the process they have been taking. Fischbach plans to follow up on the grant application and gather that information.

The second topic of discussion with the congresswoman was W.I.N. Academy in Starbuck. W.I.N. is a level four EBD school. It serves kids from 23-30 school districts. It provides a mental health component for students. “We have kids from all over attending and building maintenance is expensive. If we were to fix everything at the facility, it would cost $14 million,” stated Rankin.

“The district doesn’t receive public funding from these other schools, so we have to bill Medicaid. If a student has private insurance, we can’t bill them because we are a school,” Rankin added. “Funding doesn’t recognize the difference between a local school and a regional school.”

Finally, the topic of Career and Technology Education was approached. Schools have been struggling to maintain programs such as industrial technology, FACS and agriculture. Currently, there is an issue with filling these positions with qualified candidates. “We have some amazing welders in the county that are willing to teach kids how to weld, but they are not licensed teachers, so they can’t. Instead, we may have a social studies teacher teaching kids how to do things they may not know how to do,” said Rankin.

Fischbach was taken on a tour of the high school facilities in the CTE area with a special stop in the shop classroom. Then she spoke with the Be Kind initiative for tree planting behind the school. 

Near the end of the meeting, Fischbach recognized the Pope County Sheriff’s Department and presented Deputy Eric Thesing, School Resource Officer, with a congressional record from the United States House of Representatives.

Check out more photos in our photo gallery!

By Melanie Stegner