Herald JournalHerald Journal, Sept. 22, 2003

HLWW school board to review site choices Oct. 6

By Julie Yurek

A long road travelled by the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted school board may take a critical turn Monday, Oct. 6, when the board is scheduled to review ­ and then choose, if possible ­ a land site for the planned new school complex.

The board is set to reveal sites gathered from an independent Realtor, 7:30 p.m. at the high school media room, and then discuss potential land sites at that time, said Supt. George Ladd.

Board members also fielded questions last Monday about the operating levy and building bond set for November.

Resident Bob Schermann pressed the board about the idea the state would disintegrate the district if the operating referendum didn't pass.

The state isn't going to force the district to disband, Supt. George Ladd told Schermann.

Schermann was concerned about the state closing the district down if a new school isn't built, since he felt a recent HLWW publication mailed directly to homes stated that idea, he said.

Schermann also asked why the architect drew plans to renovate and expand that was above 60 percent of the cost of a new building.

"Why the scare tactic? Are you scared of defeat?" he asked the board.

"The state never indicated that it would shut us down," Board Member Charlie Borrell said.

Borrell was not happy that the architect went above the 60 percent limit either, he said.

The architect included everything the district would possibly need, Ladd said.

Board Members John Lideen and Charles Weber could not find the passages that Schermann was referring to in the newsletter.

Lideen reread what Bob Buresh from the Minnesota Department of Education wrote in his letter to the district. "If HLWW can't come together, the district should consider dissolution and pair with other districts," Lideen read.

"It's only his opinion," Lideen said.

"No major additions to the high school and only small improvements would be allowed at the elementary," Lideen paraphrased from Buresh's letter.

Only about $1.2 million worth of work would be allowed at each elementary school, Lideen said.

"It has never been said that way and the board never said that (about dissolution)," Board Member Al Doering said.

"It would be the district's decision, not the state's, to disintegrate," Ladd added.

After hearing from the board, Schermann was "appreciative to get it cleared up about the state," he said.

A resident asked if the board looked at what $2 million would buy.

"It's not much, only a few rooms," Board Chairman Jim Raymond said.

"What if the district spent more than $1.2 million at each elementary school?", the resident asked.

The state wouldn't allow the district to levy, Ladd said.

"Many schools seem to ask for another operating referendum before the other is paid for," a resident commented. "The bigger you make it (a building), the more you pay for it."

"Let the voters decide," Weber said.

The operating levy is the most important aspect, Lideen said. "We want to educate our students better," he said.

Levy proposed at 1.02%, reserve is about $1 million

The board approved its proposed 2004 levy for the maximum level of $330,712, which constitutes a 1.02 percent increase from last year's levy.

The reserve that HLWW used to have is now at $1 million, which is very close to what financial advisors want the district to keep anyway, Ladd said.

The school should have four months' worth of reserve, which is about $800,000, Ladd said.

At its peak, the reserve topped $2 million in the past under former Supt. Riley Hoheisel, but has been whittled down by several different factors, including less interest revenue, state funding changes, and rising costs in energy, insurance and several other factors.

Hoheisel previously forecasted that the district would need to ask for an operating referendum, and was forced to dip into the reserve himself in 2002. The reserve has been dipped into each year since.

Another problem for the district is cash flow, since the state delays payments to the school during the winter to save money, Ladd said.

This caused the district to cash in investments from the reserve in the past year to increase money on hand to pay vendors, he said.

Aside from this, the board previously set a limit on how much reserve to keep last year, setting a limit of 12 percent of its budget to keep on hand, which is $800,000, Ladd said.

The district will not have to conduct a Truth in Taxation hearing in December because the levy amount is lower than the amount required for the hearing, Ladd said.

This is the second year in a row that the hearing wasn't required for the district, he added.

Early into the board meeting, Borrell requested that an item on the agenda, program cuts if the referendum fails, be removed.

He questioned the process of topics being discussed in committees before the issue is put on the agenda, he said.

Borrell was unhappy about an agenda item listed that hadn't gone before the budget committee yet, he said.

"It's backwards logic," he said.

Borrell felt that the list of cuts is to force people into voting for the referendum, he said.

The board wasn't going to vote on it, Raymond said. It was only going to discuss the issue, he added.

Weber assumed it wasn't going to a vote that night either, he said.

Board Member Jim Fowler agreed with Borrell's concern. Fowler wasn't opposed to discussing the list, but he didn't want it to be perceived as a scare tactic, he said.

Doering was surprised to see the list on the agenda, he said. He thought there was enough money for the next two years before programs would get cut, he said.

"We have to look at all the possibilities if the referendum doesn't pass," Raymond said.

The list is only suggestions, he added. Ladd agreed.

The board approved to remove the item from the agenda. It will go before the budget committee and be back on the agenda in October.

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