Herald JournalHerald Journal, June 9, 2003

Single campus plan get support from HLWW school board

By Lynda Jensen

Charting a new course, the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted School Board approved Tuesday the concept of a single campus idea that will contain one elementary, a middle and high school in one location for bond issue in the fall.

The campus concept is contingent on the purchase of 20 to 30 acres of land near Winsted for a future elementary and assumes the land in Waverly will be kept for this purpose as well.

The decision wasn't easy or even likely at first, despite the loud support of about 60 to 70 parents who attended the meeting.

All except one board member, Charlie Borrell, voted in favor of the campus idea ­ but all expressed mixed feelings.

Board members liked the campus option, but balked somewhat at the increase in taxes and what the reaction might be from the community.

In addition, board members who wanted a new middle or high school and thought of alternative ideas hit up on the problem of not being able to keep four schools operating and have a new school at the same time.

Other options considered by the board were denied previously by the state, which will not allow the district to remodel if the cost would exceed 60 percent of new construction.

This deleted about half of the options given to the board at the meeting.

Borrell still favored an option unacceptable by the state, which is to remodel the elementaries and buy land for a new high school. The difference was about 10 percent from the 60 percent rule, which could be made up by low bids, he said.

The campus idea offered money saving options, such as conserving resources related to staff and other areas, noted Architect Lee Meyer. For example, the school would need to operate only one library instead of several, as it does now.

The meeting began with a review of the survey recently distributed by the district.

Results of the survey overwhelmingly appeared to favor the campus idea of the 18 percent of district respondents who returned it.

Five options were given on the survey; the campus style idea, new elementaries with a future high school, both, "need more information/undecided," or "no."

Next, the board reviewed tax impact information related to the fall bond and planned operating levy.

Out of 14 area school districts, HLWW will have the lowest property tax in 2003, after an operating referendum kicks in for Glencoe-Silver Lake that was passed in 2002.

For a $100,000 value home, current HLWW taxes are $137. GSL is currently at $92.

Conversely, Rockford school district, which has the second highest tax at $531, which plans to ask for an operating referendum in the fall, Ladd said.

HLWW plans to ask voters to approved both a bond for building, and an operation levy for ongoing school expenses.

Taking both the bond and levy into account, Board Member Charles Weber calculated his district taxes for his agricultural property after the meeting, saying they would be about $860. This is different than an estimate he gave at the meeting, which was incorrect, he said.

Two years ago, the school tax dropped by $500, making the final increase for school district taxes about $360 for the Webers, he said.

The net increase would be only $360, he said.

"I think that's a bargain, (for a new school)," Weber said.

It was noted that interest rates related to bonds and financing are the best in several years.

Some board members said that the bond issue could be stretched to 30 rather than 20 years; which could be refinanced much like a house is refinanced.

It was also noted that the state kicks in a great deal more at the $25 million level, if a project of that amount is passed.

The crowd pressed the board to improve facilities, saying that HLWW has gotten by too cheaply for too long, with facilities and technology suffering as a result.

Several residents emphasized how behind the HLWW facilities are, although acknowledging a good foundation of teachers and test scores.

"We don't need a Cadillac in this community," commented resident John McIntosh. "But at least we want a Buick to drive, instead of a '74 Pinto."

"Frankly, we are laughed at," McIntosh said of facilities. "We need to make up for lost time."

Curriculum Coordinator Dean Wessman, who supervises testing, predicted that test scores may start to fall because the district will start having major issues with facilities and technology.

Lideen noted that the district should be investing more into curriculum, and adding extra electives offered at other schools.

Teacher Jeff Granrud agreed with the curriculum issue wholeheartedly, saying that the district offered CSI (criminal investigations) recently and had 138 students respond ­ with one teacher to teach.

Realtor Dave Perry said that many new residents decide where to send their children based on as little as a drive by the school, in his experience.

"We don't stack up very well on a drive by in any of the three facilities," Perry said.

"We are operating a thrift shop," commented one resident. "What we need is a Target Greatland."

The crowd also demanded to know why so many students were open enrolling, when HLWW test scores are doing well and the teachers have a general good reputation.

Board Chairman Jim Raymond asked each board member to give an opinion about the campus idea, known as "Option E" by the architect.

"I would support Option E (the campus idea)," Board Member Al Doering said, although he joked about trying to devalue his house to pay taxes.

Raymond noted the large loss of open enrolled students, which amounted to about 300 students this year.

"We keep saying buildings aren't education," he said reflectively. "Why are we losing half the district?"

Raymond also noted politics in the three towns, but added that a new school would add value wherever it would be located in the district.

"I'd love to see Option E," Raymond said.

Board Member John Lideen said he did not want to formulate a plan that wouldn't pass, or end up going back to the public again after a number of years. He pressed the board to wait two weeks until its next meeting.

Board Member Ken Zimmerman supported Option E, but stressed the need for a neutral site. "We must have a neutral site. We don't want to irritate people."

Board Member Charles Weber, who was the one to later make the motion for Option E, noted that he like Option E.

Board Member Jim Fowler said he was pleased with the positive support from the crowd, after so many years of negative feedback, he said. He expressed concern for the tax impact and site location.

"I like E," Fowler said. That's a hard sell."

Doering confessed mixed feelings, but said the district has gone by cheap for too long, and that taxpayers may be willing to bite the bullet.

"I like the idea of Option E," Doering said. The decision belonged to the taxpayers. "It may not pass . . . and it may."

Borrell said nothing changed his mind, and wanted to keep an elementary in each community, which was a popular opinion at the public meetings. "Our growth will come from the elementaries," he said. "I want to see an elementary in each town," Borrell said. He supports a new high school, but down the road when the need is stronger, Borrell said.

Lideen agreed that people strongly want an elementary in each town.

A resident who attended the Waverly meeting noted that the campus idea wasn't presented during the public meetings, and had she known this, she would have forgone the local elementary idea.

As far as a neutral site, Borrell asked the other board members what "neutral" meant to them. "I would assume it would be in the central part of the district, in Howard Lake," Borrell said. He asked other board members from Winsted if "neutral" meant Winsted to them.

Lideen noted that it would be hard to ship seniors and kindergartners on the same bus.

Lideen pressed the board very strongly to wait two weeks to make its final decision, because the board took such a sudden change of direction and was looking at relatively new information during the past few months.

This would still keep the board on its schedule, since the decision would be made in June.

"We're talking about some good money," Lideen said. "We want something that will pass.

However, Raymond questioned this and as the chairman, pressed the board to make a decision that night because it was on the agenda.

"It's the exact reasons why people are frustrated every time a decision needs to be made," Raymond said.

Lideen started to disagree.

"I've been on this board for 15 years. Don't tell me that isn't true," Raymond told Lideen.

Lideen was heavily criticized by the crowd for his pressure on the board to wait for two weeks, with one crowd member even calling him irresponsible, unprepared and one saying he was gutless.

"What are you going to find out in two weeks that you don't know now?" Merlyn Lutter asked Lideen.

Raymond noted that Lideen had a copy of the agenda several days ago to make up his mind.

Doering defended Lideen, pointing out that he is usually very well prepared for meetings. "He has very valid reasons."

Resident Rob Merritt noted that there were 150 names on the petition, and survey with results that supported the decision. "What more do you need to go on?" Merritt asked Lideen. "Get off the fence."

"You should have enough information to make a decision. It's irresponsible not to do it," commented resident Tom Hammer.

Raymond commended the people who attended the meeting with their support, but asked them pointedly if they cared where the location of the campus would be. Several shouted "No" in response to this.

Raymond noted that the issue was far from over. "There's a lot of work left. Are you willing to do that?" Raymond asked the crowd. Many shouted "Yes."

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