Herald and Journal, Sept. 24, 2001

HLWW board members speak candidly about district's future

By Lynda Jensen

The future of Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted school district prompted candid discussion about two related items on the agenda at the HLWW school board meeting last Monday.

The first item was a report from board member Jim Fowler, who summarized the first meeting of two committees to explore consolidation between the Lester Prairie and Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted school board.

Members of the committee are Superintendent Riley Hoheisel (ex-officio), board members Jim Fowler and Randy Heuer, teacher Chad Gagnon, bus driver Bob Bayerl, and community members Mary Pettit and Rob Merritt. The formula of committee members was modeled after Lester Prairie's choice of staff and non-staff people.

Fowler described the committee meeting, saying that general subjects were discussed.

HLWW committee members emphasized the tax consequences and financial impact of a possible consolidation.

Lester Prairie committee members "emphasized very strongly the curriculum," Fowler said. They discussed what the offerings for 120 students per grade would be, he said.

The next committee meeting will be Monday, Oct. 8.

"From what I hear, it's the same old thing," board member Jim Raymond said of the demeanor of the Lester Prairie's committee.

The second item on the agenda was the school district's goals concerning consolidation, which drew a reaction from board members.

The first goal listed on the list is to complete the programming for new grades 9-12 high school by working with the architect.

"That's a lofty goal," Raymond said.

Raymond asked to table this goal, since he thought it might be wasted staff time, in light of community reaction.

"From what I understand, there's another letter to come from the Howard Lake Business Association of non-support, and we have the people of Waverly feeling left out," Raymond said.

"As a board of education, do we want to spend any more time and money pursuing this goal, for the reaction we're getting right now?" Raymond asked.

Board member Leo Weber expressed frustration, and disappointment. "I can't understand why people can't see the need for a school to compete with the other districts - not where it is," he said. " The other districts are going to eat up all the kids," he said.

"I'm disgusted with it," Raymond said. "I'm ready to pull my support," he said. "My way of doing that is to ask if this goal is still reachable," he said.

"It seems that we have a constituency that is willing to accept mediocrity at the expense of students, in the form of community pride, instead of what the need is," Fowler observed.

"If (the referendum) does go down, we're going to have to spend $6 million to rebuild Howard Lake high school. . . .and then what are we going to do in two years? Build a new high school? And then there probably won't be a stadium" Zimmerman said.

A stadium was quoted in the different packages related to cost of building a new school.

"Is Howard Lake and Waverly willing to come up with the money if the location is changed?" asked board member Ken Zimmerman.

"Are we saying that communities, if they can't have it in this community or that, that we don't need a school?" asked board member Leo Weber.

Acting chair Randy Heuer disagreed with Raymond about removing the goal from the district's goals.

"I would hate to think that, from a personal standpoint, that I have put this amount of time so far, been called every name in the book, had my job threatened me, and numerous other things, to walk away at this point," Heuer said.

"It makes me want to fight harder," he said. "If I did not believe that this was the right project . . . I've got a whole lot of things to spend my time, other than meetings," Heuer said. "I believe it's important for our future."

"It makes me mad when I read in the paper somebody telling me that we should fix up an old high school and then sit where we are," Zimmerman said. "Then, in a few years they're going to need to build a new one for $40 million. Where are we going to put it? Because by that time (the cost) will really go up," he said.

"If that's how they want it, then fine," Zimmerman said.

Hoheisel indicated toward the end of the discussion that most of the work had been done already by High School Principal Mike Day and the architect for programming of the new high school.

One of the better things to come out of the meetings with Lester Prairie is the refocusing on curriculum, Fowler said. "Hopefully, we can set aside some of the turf protection that's been going on," Fowler said.

A motion was made to accept the goals as presented. It passed unanimously.

The goals for the long range planning and facilities committee for 2002 are:

· complete programming for new grades 9-12 high school by working with architect.

· identify school district committee to work with Lester Prairie committee to consider consolidation.

· determine timetable for decision-making on a "drop dead" date for Lester Prairie or proceeding independently toward a school bond election for new grades 9-12 high school.


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