Herald Journal Columns
Fe. 13, 2006 Herald Journal

Everything to lose, nothing to gain


Watch for last-minute slanted post cards at a mailbox near you

To the surprise of few, Paul Dorr and his associates declined the political forum hosted by Herald Journal last week, which was moderated by Tony Kielkucki.

After all, talking about issues like civilized adults three weeks before the referendum just isn’t his style.

Honestly, Dorr would be crazy to actually talk about the issues during moderated discussion in a controlled setting like a forum because it flies in the face of his tried-and-true formula for shooting down school bonds: to hit voters at the last minute with slanted statements that give the adversary no chance to say “That isn’t true.”

He has everything to lose and nothing to gain by attending a forum such as that.

Thinking of that possibility ahead of time, we decided to go forward with the forum regardless of whether Dorr or the WISE people would attend.

Hence the impression that they weren’t truly “invited.” We know otherwise.

Victor Niska of Waverly, the WISE committee chairman, initially tried to change the location based on lack of lighting at a building that he’d never been at. He also claimed to give me a list of questions that I never received.

This, on the tail of constantly changing the location of a WISE meeting that was distributed to the public as being an “open meeting.”

Why not send their postcards out now? What have they got to lose by making their arguments public now?

If you read anything about Dorr in the information reported by other newspapers in the links we’ve supplied over the last few weeks, you will understand something clearly: Paul Dorr hates public school systems. All of them; the good, bad and ugly.

His mission is to defeat any public school referendum, even if it has very serious side effects to its communities and took 10 years to come up with something acceptable to all three communities in one district.

Let me ask you this: Where is Paul Dorr going to be the day after the referendum fails?

What if – just what if – Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted decided that no reasonable bond would be passed by the combination of towns Howard Lake/Waverly/Winsted and it decided to chop one of the towns out of the district?

In this worst case scenario, it’s possible that Winsted residents may end up bussing their kids 11 miles to Watertown-Mayer or paying for a private school they can’t afford; or that Waverly people would be paying higher taxes to the Buffalo-Hanover-Montrose school system.

Where is Dorr going to be, then?

Far away from here, perhaps in Orono, trying to defeat that referendum there, or somewhere else far away from here. Maybe back to Iowa?

He doesn’t have to pay the consequences of the bond failure.

Also, in my scenario, I would like to point out that Dorr would actually contribute to Winsted or Waverly people paying MORE taxes to a public school instead of less.

Watertown Mayer taxes are twice as high as HLWW. Buffalo is also much higher. In fact, nearly all the school districts in the surrounding area is a great deal more, except for Lester Prairie, which is in statutory operating debt.

What’s Plan B for all the children who don’t fit into Paul Dorr’s world? Is every school supposed to be a private school? What about the poor families who can’t afford this?

Also, remember that every newspaper to Paul Dorr is a liberal based paper that supports its public school because of advertising revenue.

This newspaper is probably one of the most conservative ones in the state.

We have gotten compliments from both sides of this issue on our willingness to print letters on the opinions page, and be the open forum that we tried to provide last week at the political forum.

This newspaper is a political “forum” every week by virtue of its editorial page. We are a forum by our very nature. That’s how it’s supposed to be.

We have always printed both sides of this issue in all our news articles. Anyone who says different had better be prepared to come up with specific facts to back up his or her claim otherwise.

One last note about the forum: the questions that we formulated were based on coming up with solutions to problems that HLWW has.

It’s easy to sit back and say “no” to everything – but when you have to actually come up with the answer to a problem, it’s a bit different, isn’t it?

More thoughts from an editor who doesn’t have kids in this district . . .

As you know, I don’t have children in this district and I don’t pay taxes here, either.

I’ve been editor of this newspaper for five years – or to put it into perspective, I came halfway through the HLWW drama.

The following are some of my thoughts on the debate over school facilities:

• I’ve watched the HLWW school board turn over a number of times, with the same issues and “solutions” being presented over and over.

For example, a recent letter writer said the district should add on to the Howard Lake building. This was discussed at length five years ago (or longer, before I got here).

The state flatly vetoed this idea, and even if it didn’t, can you imagine the eminent domain proceedings that would ensue, to get enough room that the state mandates for a new school?

The Howard Lake buildings take up 9.3 acres and the state requires 45 acres for a new high school.

They are throwing money away right now into leased facilities, not long-term investments in the form of buildings.

The modern age has passed by the existing HLWW facilities. It was built in a different era, before computers and basic modern equipment took up more space.

And like it or not, there really are state-mandated space requirements that are more than what you or I remember as a child.

This referendum addresses state health and safety codes in all three existing buildings.

Whether you want to admit it or not, there is a problem with the space at HLWW. I walk those halls and visit there on a regular basis.

• When I first came here five years ago, I said, “I don’t pay taxes here and I’m not about to tell people what to do with their school. I will present the information they need to make their own decisions. They can decide for themselves.”

I have a lot of faith in people to make their own decisions. Our readers are intelligent people.

This still stands true today, but it doesn’t mean that an outsider from Iowa isn’t willing to step into the same scenario and tell local people what is best for them, even though he doesn’t know the first thing about us, our children, or our communities.

• Which brings me to my next point: an outsider really doesn’t know what he’s talking about when it comes to HLWW.

It’s been a long road. This isn’t a case of trying to pass a referendum over and over.

Each time HLWW tried to get a new facility, it was tripped by a very different reason – mainly location of where the new school would be amidst three communities.

Another time it was to build a huge mega-school that was too much money, and the district was going to close all the elementary schools in each town (which frankly I wouldn’t like, either), etc., etc.

It took years before Victor Township was willing to open its borders, which it now has, to its credit. People in the township understand that it wasn’t working the other way (pitting the towns against each other).

• What will happen if this referendum doesn’t fly?

Think about it – we finally have a reasonable location that might just work for enough people in the district.

If this doesn’t go, then I fear the worst. What if Winsted is chopped out of the district? Perhaps those students will attend other districts elsewhere.

You don’t like taxes in the City of Winsted? Well, try paying for city taxes on top of much higher school district taxes somewhere else.

We are at a crossroads here.

There’s been a legitimate reason for each referendum going down before, but now it comes down to this – if this referendum fails, then people will assume that nothing will satisfy the players, and communities, involved.

Something very serious and big will happen to this school district.

• “No” means “no.”

Does it, really? During the last referendum, misleading post cards – which are in court right now – full of slanted “facts,” were sent to voters the week of the election – too late to refute or prove untrue.

That vote lost by 36 votes. The confusion and mixture of half truths probably convinced enough people to vote no.

Is that fair? Of course not. Would you like someone to trick you into something? I don’t think so.

• Every single one of us had our education paid for by someone.

Whose burden were you? I attended classes in St. Cloud. Were the people there happy about paying for my education? I can assume “no” from all the grousing I hear about taxes.

But does that mean we don’t owe the same debt to our children?

• We can end this drama now.

Watching people, whom I consider friends, fight for literally years has become not only tiresome, but sad.

There seems to be only two directions for HLWW to go.

Either healing can begin and a fresh start can be made with a reasonable referendum at a reasonable location, such as now, or there can be further splintering of the communities and the rift between the communities will get much worse.

Will you allow this sad drama to continue?

Is the worst thing you can ever imagine that your taxes will go up for something tangible and specific, like a new school?

I’ve got a news flash for you: Taxes will go up – and for (gasp) lesser reasons.

You will be paying more taxes in the future. And you will have nothing to show for it, but perhaps more government and more regulations.

But to make a purposeful decision, to endorse the future, heal our communities and tie us together – would you be willing to allow your taxes to go up for that reason?

Vote how you will.

But don’t be tricked, duped or fooled at the last minute into voting for something that will have consequences far down the road that you didn’t think of beforehand.

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