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School forest plans grow

The Esko school district’s plans to create a school forest for students has blossomed into a bigger project that the whole Esko community can become involved in.

Steve Krueger, a teacher at Esko, proposed the idea of a school forest to the Esko school board back in April. The board gave Krueger and the school forest committee its approval to move forward with the project so that the committee could begin working with the Department of Natural Resources.

Krueger presented the committee’s latest plans at the board’s meeting Monday, July 12. He and dozens of volunteers have mapped out four trails, each assigned a color for identification, which would be created utilizing school land behind the football and baseball fields. Each trail would have its own outdoor classroom setting and would highlight a special feature, such as the Midway River or the highest elevation of the property, to offer a unique learning experience. Eventually, Krueger hopes to put more permanent structures on the trails to be used as seating and work areas for the classrooms, and to install signs with historical facts about the land. For now, the group is focused on working with the DNR to ensure that the trails are placed correctly so they can begin clearing and marking the trails.

Krueger and the committee hope there will be enough interest in the outdoor classrooms that teachers will reserve them, using the color system, for specific times. Board members expressed appreciation for the color system, as it will ensure a better response from emergency services if they are needed.

Krueger explained to the board that when details begin to fall in place, there will be more information about public access to the trails during and after school hours. Ultimately, the committee hopes that the trails are something the community can come together to create and enjoy.

After Krueger‘s presentation, the board approved the proposal, pending the return of the legal description of the land. With their approval, a forester from the DNR will go with committee members to approve the proposed placement of the trails. Krueger hopes to have the first trail, the green trail, completed by September or October of this year.

In other business, the board approved the current outline of the 10-year facilities maintenance plan. The approval will allow superintendent Aaron Fischer to move forward with the specifics of installing the new water treatment system at the school. Fischer and the board are excited to take the next step with this project but wanted to remind the community that the school’s water is not a safety concern; they are only updating the treatment system to improve the taste of the water.

The board also approved a raise for substitutes working in the school’s food service, after school, janitorial and paraprofessional departments. The raise, from $12.50 to $13.50, was put into place to try to keep the substitutes who already work for the school.

The board also approved an increase in the price of school lunches for the 2022-23 school year. Lunches for students were offered for free for the past two years through funds from the government in response to Covid-19, but will now cost $2.40 for K-6 and $2.50 for grades 7-12, a 10-cent increase from the prices for lunch in 2019. Fischer assured board members that the rates are still competitive compared to other districts in the area. Breakfast and adult lunch prices will also be raised by 10 cents.