By Kristen Miller
DASSEL, COKATO, MN Considered a visionary of his time and an advocate of the school system, the late Morris Latt was instrumental in the consolidation of Dassel-Cokato Schools.
In addition to farming, Latt also spent 24 years on the school board before and after the consolidation, a decision that was approved by Cokato and Dassel voters in February 1969.
The decision to merge was made for a combination of reasons, according to former superintendent Bob Ness, who served with Latt from 1967 to 1978.
In the late 1960s, a law was passed that forced country schools to join larger rural school districts, Ness explained. This increased enrollment for both Dassel and Cokato school districts.
This, along with the consideration of future growth, resulted in a need for larger facilities, and both buildings in the district were aging, Ness noted. It was also an opportunity to expand curriculum. “We could do so much more with more students,” he said.
According to the Dassel Dispatch, the vote to merge won in Dassel by 107 votes, and by 422 votes in Cokato, with a total of 1,181 votes cast.
Following the merger, a special election was in order for a new school board.
In the spring of 1969, Latt was elected to the board, along with Harvey Larson, MJ Erlandson, Howard Hess, Elmer Berg, and Wyman Nelson, reported the Dispatch.
Latt served on the board as chair for several of his years and provided strong leadership, Ness said.
“[Morris] was always a gentleman who was well-respected in a broad spectrum of the community,” Ness said. Latt also believed in the possibilities of a consolidation, he noted.
“It was a huge deal that Morris was one of the leaders of that,” Ness said, noting there was a significant amount of pressure on where to build the new school, since it needed to be mutually accessible.
Eventually, neutral ground was found just past the Meeker/Wright county line, despite a 56-vote defeat in the first school bond election, which took place in May 1970, according to the Dassel Dispatch. The new junior/senior high school building was estimated to cost $2,545,000. Voters also rejected a bond for a new swimming pool, estimated at $355,000.
Then, in September 1970, the vote passed for the construction of a new school.
The vote for a $2.6 million school passed by 420 votes, and the second question, for a $300,000 swimming pool, passed by 66 votes, according to “Cokato’s First Century: 1878-1978” by Carlton Lee.
A ground-breaking ceremony for the new school took place Earth Day, April 22, 1971, with school board and administration, according to the Cokato Enterprise.
Students started their first year in the new school Sept. 5, 1972, with 1,670 students.
Dassel-Cokato was at the forefront in school consolidations and at the time, was the largest consolidation in the state, according to Ness.
Latt served on the school board for 24 years, until the spring of 1985.
The Dassel Dispatch reported that before he retired, Latt was able to present his youngest son, Joe, with his diploma, a tradition that had been done for his other children Dave in 1980, Dan in 1974, Barbara in 1972, and Mark in 1971.
Latt died July 19 at the age of 84.