Herald JournalHerald Journal, May 26, 2003

Parents press HLWW board to consider single school campus

By Lynda Jensen

A petition with about 150 signatures, presented by about one dozen concerned parents, highlighted the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted school board meeting Tuesday.

The parents believe that a single campus complex, which would contain an elementary, middle and high school in one neutral location yet to be determined, would serve the district best.

The group, which has a core of about 25 people from all three communities, pressed the board to distribute a survey to district parents asking about this idea.

The move was prompted from talk by board members about challenging the state, and board's inclination toward remodeling for long-term facilities, which are both mistakes, said parent Rob Merritt, who served as spokesman for the group.

"There's a lot more support than you think," Merritt said.

The petition read the following:

"By signing my name to this list as a member and or taxpayer of this community, I support spending the taxpayer dollars needed to build a new HLWW school campus.

I realize by building a new campus, my tax dollars will increase.

I support HLWW schools and believe if we don't move forward with this project, it would be a detriment to our community and our school district."

Denise Merritt pointed out that district voters were not given the chance to vote in favor of building facilities.

Board Member Ken Zimmermann questioned where the neutral location would be, suggesting the Diers property along Wright County Road 6.

"I'm opening my mouth," Zimmermann said. "I'll probably get hit on the head."

"I wouldn't want to do it again, I'm too old," Zimmermann said about choosing a neutral site.

The parents gave the board a sample survey letter.

In the letter, parents are asked to choose between a single campus idea at a neutral location, which is yet to be chosen, or building new elementaries at both Winsted and Waverly. There will be a space for comments.

The survey letter read in part:

"We are asking you as a parent and taxpayer, what are you willing to support?

"We are deciding this issue for the sake of your children and our district at the June 4 board meeting. We would like to hear which option you would support. Either way, taxes will increase.

"If we don't get new buildings, our enrollment will continue to decrease and the state predicts that our school district will have trouble maintaining itself as a viable independent school district. As a result, we could be paying higher taxes to the other school districts and not have our own schools."

No mention of location was made, and people seemed unconcerned with this, Merritt said.

The board appeared to appreciate the hope and enthusiasm from the group, but was careful to be realistic about the issue.

Board Member Al Doering expressed the strongest support for the group's objectives.

Members John Lideen and Charles Weber were initially cautious, but indicated they would be in favor of the group's ideas if the right formula could be found.

Member Charlie Borrell asked if dollar figures could be affixed to the survey, giving parents more information about it.

Most other members, including Chair Jim Raymond, felt this would cloud the issue, as well as scare them off from voting in favor of it.

Doering pointed out they were only looking for support of ideas, not convincing people with cost.

It was noted that specific dollar figures would be released before election day, where voters could approve or vote down the ideas based on finances, if they wanted to.

Tom Peterson told the board it should move ahead with the ideas and not worry about sticker shock.

At one point, when the group was talking about money, Zimmermann was moved to remind everyone not to get carried away.

There are little old ladies in his church who make Zimmermann remember those who live on fixed incomes, he said.

Both the county and city plan to raise taxes, and the impact on his property would be heavy, much less someone living on a fixed income, Zimmermann said.

It was noted that the district has low taxes in relation to other districts, which has been the case for many years.

In the end, the board decided to move ahead with the survey, coding each community with a different color to help determine if the results would be slanted in one direction or the other, by way of community.

Challenging state?

The board also reviewed previous discussion about challenging the state during its last board meeting.

Raymond asked the board if it wanted to pursue this idea, saying it would take at least one year to do it since the legislative session was basically over.

"I didn't appreciate the last meeting," Raymond said. "We've got to respect people."

Borrell noted that members of the school board association told him that Bob Buresh of the Department of Education overstepped his boundaries. Buresh wrote a scathing letter about remodeling ideas for HLWW.

Lideen said that research could be done to explore other avenues that would get around Buresh.

Raymond specifically asked Borrell about the issue, since Borrell is the strongest supporter of the idea.

"Didn't the letter upset you?" Borrell asked Raymond.

"I didn't say you shouldn't be upset," Raymond said. However, the board should be practical about the issue, he said.

"It will cost money," Raymond said. Lideen and Borrell disagreed with this, saying it could be done without much money.

However, Raymond pointed out it would take lawyer fees to pursue it.

"Buresh was right," Weber eventually commented. "We've been sitting on our hands too long, keeping our thumbs warm."

It was decided not to pursue this idea.

Board terms are set to correct imbalance

As requested, a judge set terms for HLWW board members to correct the board imbalance, with four four-year terms and one two-year term for the fall election.

This will correct a majority of the board turning over every so often, as will be the case in the fall when five of seven seats will be up.

Prospective board members must declare which term they plan to run for.

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