Herald and Journal, Nov. 27, 2000

New committee formed to address new school location

By Lynda Jensen

A crowd of more than 30 people attended the regular Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted school board meeting Nov. 20 to address the site for a potential new school.

The group was composed of both mayors from Howard Lake and Waverly as well as several council members and Howard Lake and Waverly parents.

The most recent turn of events for the school site has been Victor Township's decision Nov. 13 against changing its land use policy to accommodate the school in the center of the township, although the township would allow a school to be constructed along its borders.

This effectively eliminated the Gordon Dalbec property from the list of choices, due to the legal language of the purchase agreement, Superintendent Riley Hoheisel said.

Hoheisel announced the decision of the Victor Township last week at a meeting of the Howard Lake Business Association.

At the HLBA meeting, Hoheisel stated that the board was looking at two properties: the Ray Fiecke property located 1/4 mile north of Winsted city limits and the Edna Frank property, which touches Howard Lake city limits near the the cemetery.

"We don't even know if these sites are available," Board Chairman Eugene Lorentz said. The board does not know the cost or if the people involved are willing to enter an agreement with the school district, Lorentz said.

"The board itself has not done anything official," Lorentz said. The process will start all over again, with the board trying to identify property according to cost and availability, he said. "Then we'll get back to residents."

Those who attended the meeting expressed a desire to approach each person in Victor Township, to ask them to reconsider its decision.

Board Member Randy Heuer objected to this idea, saying that everyone should respect the township's decision.

"They said 'no' from day one," Heuer said.

"We've asked Victor Township four times," Heuer said. "I've told my friends and neighbors to change their minds. They are within their rights," he said.

Some parents at the meeting expressed surprise over how quickly the vote appeared to happen.

"The next thing I knew, they voted," Howard Lake Mayor Gerry Smith said. "We blew it. We totally blew it," he said.

"Most parents aren't informed (about the meetings for site location)," commented resident Cindy Heuer. She pointed to Buffalo and how the parents there appear to be so organized and actively seeking out information. "The school board needs to be a catalyst for that," she said.

"Is it the school board's job?" Randy Heuer asked. "There's a political line there," that perhaps should not be crossed, he said.

Smith said he volunteered to talk with Victor Township people, but was told to wait and see what happens.

"Perhaps hind sight is 20/20," Randy Heuer said. "There was no huge public push for support.

"No one stepped forward (to help with public relations)," Lorentz said. "Are you ready to help?" he asked.

"Yes," Cindy Heuer said. A sign-up sheet was passed around.

"I myself don't think we'll build a new school if we can't have a central location," Board Member Ken Zimmermann commented.

Several people made strong objections to a location south of Howard Lake near Winsted.

Waverly Mayor Charles Bush indicated that a Winsted site would leave some areas in the district 18 miles away. It would be a sacrifice to open enrollment, he said.

Smith passed out information to press his point that the school should remain near Howard Lake. He pointed toward the results of the survey done last year and also information about contributions from the Howard Lake Lions and other organizations that have given large sums of money to the school district.

Howard Lake people are willing to explain and to prove why their site is better, Smith said.

If a site at Winsted is chosen, the school board will be on its own, Smith said. "I'm sorry, it won't be 'we' - it will be 'you' going against the residents' desires," he said.

One Winsted parent at the meeting objected. Her 5-year-old son spends an hour and 15 minutes on the bus for school, she said. "I don't think that's right. I'm five minutes from school," she said.

The idea that Lester Prairie students may be consolidated or absorbed by the district was also discussed.

"I think we'd be dreaming to pull the 'If you build it, they will come,' idea" resident Ron Miller said.

Howard Lake has been the one to show support for the school all along, Smith said. He asked for a show of hands of Howard Lake people at the meeting. Nearly all raised their hands.

"We're turning people off feuding," Smith said.

"We must quit fighting amongst ourselves," Randy Heuer said.

"We'd better do it pretty quick," Randy Heuer added. The school district is losing about $1.3 million each year to open enrollment, he said. "That's an awful lot of teachers. That's an awful lot of textbooks. That's an awful lot of money."

"To be real honest, it's been frustrating." he said. "And now it seems to me, we have to start all over again."

Randy Heuer urged attendees to keep an open mind. "This is only part of the story (the discussion tonight)," he added.

"I believe this district is on a positive track. We always work toward unifying," he said.

"I caution all of you to keep in mind that if we divide, then we'll have big problems," Hoheisel said.

Heuer moved to appoint no more than three people on a committee to look into the purchase of another site.

The board appointed James Raymond, Charles Weber and Gene Lorentz as part of the new school location committee.

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