Herald and Journal, May 24, 1999

LP not interested in school consolidation

By Andrea Vargo and Luis Puga

In a joint meeting between the Lester Prairie (LP) and Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted(HLWW) school board, Gene Starke told a room full of school officials that the Lester Prairie school district would like to remain separate.

He said that the LP board has found that in the course of a study and four public meetings, the community members they have talked to have expressed a desire to keep the district independent.

"That doesn't mean we would stop looking completely at Howard Lake with the possibility of cooperation in some areas," he added.

He pointed out, for example, sharing programs like HLWW's agriculture program or Lester Prairie's computer-aided drafting and design course.

"Looking at the people we have out there, I just don't see it happening within the next year or two, but maybe down the line," Starke said.

He added that the board could not make such a decision by the July 1 deadline that HLWW set, and perhaps further down the line, some cooperation could be sought.

Lester Prairie Superintendent James Redfield added that there is a lot of community support for building an elementary school within the city.

HLWW Board Chair Jim Raymond expressed disappointment that Lester Prairie could not see the financial advantage from the $6 million facility grant obtained through consolidation.

"I don't know what to say. In the future, we [HLWW] are going to proceed with our plan as stated before," Raymond said.

Redfield added that HLWW's planning has been going on for 18 months, whereas Lester Prairie's has just started and is not close to making a final decision on its future.

Raymond told Redfield that HLWW would certainly be willing to slow down in their planning to accommodate Lester Prairie. However, both Redfield and Starke reiterated the community's strong desire to stay independent.

It was asked how long the $6 million facility grant would be available if Lester Prairie became interested in consolidating later. Hoheisel believed as long as legislation doesn't change, it would still be there.

Redfield asked if the HLWW district could get the money without consolidation, to which Hoheisel replied that the grant is contingent on consolidation.

HLWW board member Mary Pettit asked, "Do you feel that through your surveys and public hearing, that people in the community have been given enough information? We've [HLWW] been studying this for how many years, and Dr. Redfield said he only had a short period of time. Do you really think that they [LP community] understand the $6 million is out there? Do they understand tax impact?"

Starke responded, "I doubt it. I don't think everybody does."

Lester Prairie board member Nancy Krull added that in any community, including Lester Prairie, there will always be voters who vote down any proposal that might raise their taxes and voters who will always vote to support the school in its growth. She added that the financial information provided by HLWW financial advisor was in the paper for the community to see.

Hoheisel concluded that he respected Lester Prairie's decision and thanked them for their time.

"I've been a superintendent for eight years, my 16th year for the state of Minnesota, and, I'll tell you, it is not getting easier. Good luck to you, folks," he said.

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