Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, February 22, 1999

LP board, citizens question district's future

By Luis Puga

The Lester Prairie School Board took questions on future plans at its meeting last Tuesday.

About 12 people from the community attended the meeting. Chairperson Gene Starke opened up the floor for questions for 15 minutes.

Preliminary questions concerned a definition of the excess levy referendum and what the money would be spent on.

Supt. James Redfield explained that the referendum would be voted on by the public and any increases would be matched by the state.

He said that for every excess local dollar, the state could match two-and-a-half to three dollars. The district is hoping to raise the amount spent per pupil by $350 with these excess funds.

Redfield explained that this money could be spent to reduce class size.

However, some concern was expressed over the lack of space in the school. Redfield said that space is a legitimate concern, but that bonding is a local effort.

He also noted that the governor's budget for class size reduction amounted to very little and could only subsidize part of a teacher's salary. It also only focuses on grades kindergarten through three.

The proposal, if passed, would allot no money for space increases, but would more likely add teachers to existing classes.

Other expenses that a levy increase could be spent on included day to day costs, technology, book replacement, and language programs.

Board member Barry Kyllo also said that the district often uses these funds for technology.

A number of questions arose about the proposed new school in the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted school district and consideration of consolidation.

They came not only from the audience, but from a meetings with the teachers association held that afternoon.

Starke said, "I have a concern of open enrollment students being lost. Then again, look at it this way: our open enrollment students are coming here for a reason. What is that reason? Is Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted a school parents want to send their school children to?"

Starke said that Lester Prairie gives a good education, and that is why parents send their children there. He added that the community must find a way to get both funds and space, and must have community involvement.

"But it isn't going to be done by the school board and it isn't going to be done by the teachers," he said.

"It's going to be done by the community. You're the ones who have to decide what we want to do with our school."

Starke pointed out that the board, made up of part-time members, cannot handle the whole load to process all the prospects for the future. He said that until community involvement develops, he cannot answer questions concerning the district's future.

Board members did express some exasperation in previous attempts to increase community involvement.

This included a survey conducted by Don Christenson, which Kyllo said was poorly attended last year.

Starke said that the board hopes to send out a survey to taxpayers in the next month and a half.

On consolidation, audience members expressed concern over transportation.

Board member Murl Kletscher said, "If anyone thinks that consolidation is going to save you money, I got news for you. It won't happen."

Some concern was expressed on whether the HLWW district is gaining or losing students in general. Also, some board members wondered if the measure for a new school would pass at all.

Some board members also felt that a bigger school district was not necessarily better.

Board member Chester Hoernemann said, "Even the legislature has begun to acknowledge that bigger isn't better."

He said that the state is finding that conflict in scheduling over a large school's facilities may keep some children from getting access.

Redfield also said that some information was still pending. Particularly, the board is curious as to the tax impact specifically for the citizens of Lester Prairie.

Other questions included the financial condition of the HLWW district as a whole. The district has a $400 excess levy already, and Lester Prairie would have to come up to that level.

Kletscher also said that the HLWW district is probably in its last year of payments on a $900,000 bond. Lester has one for the next 20 years.

Redfield discussed the $6 million grant, saying that it would go to the combined district if they consolidated.

He did point out that while local state representatives would likely be in favor of giving the district the grant, the proposed combined district may not get the money. The board also pointed out that consolidation would be voted on by both districts.

Redfield finally pointed out that by the time the school board gets community input and all the relevant information, the HLWW building proposal may be ready for a vote.

Starke said that he thought the vote would happen early fall or election time. Kyllo pointed out that HLWW has offered to include Lester Prairie in the process, but won't wait until Lester decides.

Board members said that other towns should be explored.

Some audience members asked the board to do a better job of informing the community.

The board responded by saying that the community is always welcome at meetings. At one point, as audience members began to leave, the board invited them to stay for the rest of the meeting.

The board hopes to send out a survey on the issue, as well as have a two-hour discussion time with the teachers association during school time.

Further, it will hold a special meeting on the future of the district and the Honeywell proposal Monday, March 1 at 6 p.m.

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