Herald JournalHerald Journal, Nov. 3, 2003

HLWW candidates state their views at forum

By Julie Yurek

Nearly 60 citizens attended the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted School Board candidate forum last Monday.

The two-hour long session addressed issues such as candidates' goals, what can be done to promote district unity, and what they think should be done with the existing buildings should the building levy pass.

The forum was hosted by the Howard Lake Business Association, Winsted Chamber of Commerce, and the Montrose-Waverly Chamber of Commerce.

Seven candidates are vying for four seats. The seven are Rob Merritt of Howard Lake, Tom Hammer of Howard Lake, Dan Schaible of Waverly, Lori Custer of Howard Lake, incumbents James Raymond of Howard Lake, Charles Weber of Winsted, and Al Doering of Waverly.

The candidates were asked four pre-determined questions, but they were also asked questions from the audience and e-mail. Answers were limited to two minutes in length.

Audience and e-mail questions were not to be addressed to specific individuals; the questions were asked of all the candidates.

Candidates were asked what their feelings are on the building and operating referendums that are on the ballot for Tuesday.

The operating referendum is "absolutely necessary," Merritt said. He is a "yes, yes," vote, he said.

More space is needed for additional curriculum, he said. "If you don't have the space, you can't expand the curriculum."

The operating referendum is very important, Weber said.

As for the building referendum, it's up to the voters, he said. "I'm glad to see it there. It's finally on the ballot after five years."

Raymond acknowledged that the district does have a fund balance, but that it's probably not enough to cover regular maintenance and improvements.

About the building referendum, "we have to do something," he said.

"We certainly need it, so it's important it passes," Doering said about the operating referendum.

The building referendum question is "a difficult question for voters," Doering said. "Personally, if it fails, we're not in dire straights. It is as good of option as we have."

Schaible is "for the school, but on the building referendum, one school is too much money right now," he said. "It's too much at one time."

The operating levy "needs to pass," Schaible said.

Custer told the audience that she does not support the building referendum. Those on a fixed income will have a hard time on their budgets, she said.

She's also afraid that passing the building referendum would squeeze out young families because of higher taxes, she said.

Custer does not support a one-campus school. She wants to keep separate schools, she said. She does, however, support the land choice.

As for the operating referendum, "it's hard to argue against it," she said.

Hammer supports a "yes, yes vote," he said.

The operating referendum has to be supported for the teachers, he said.

Regarding the school, something has to be done, he said. "In the business world, mergers happen."

It's not economically feasible to keep three schools operating, he said. "It is a hard decision emotionally."

Also, Hammer feels the district has to get kids back from open enrollment, he said.

Before questions from the audience were taken, candidates were given three minutes to sum up their viewpoints.

It is important to provide children with opportunity, Merritt said.

Buildings do matter, he said. The key issues are more space, more curriculum, and more teachers.

"Yes, taxes will go up, but we will have more to offer," he said.

"It's not cost effective to have four buildings operating," he said.

Weber's final thought was that he would like to see the building referendum pass because interest rates are low, it would be a better atmosphere for students and teachers, and it would boost self-esteem/morale, he said.

"Vote yes, but it's up to you," he said.

"Think of the kids and future," Raymond said. "I'm willing to compete with other districts."

Raymond's opinion about the increase in taxes was that it's worth the money, he said.

"Think of the kids when you go to polls," he said. Raymond hopes people will think their children and grandchildren are worth it, he said.

"It would be failure on our part to not provide the education," he said. "We have to support our students."

Hammer echoed similar thoughts. "It's all about the kids. Think of them when you go to vote," he said.

Hammer recommended that the public go to the schools to see for themselves what shape the facilities are in. "Get the facts," he said.

As for the increase in taxes, put it into perspective, he said. Many families don't think about the extras they have, such as cell phones, he said.

"We have to start coming together as a community. We have to learn from our kids, it's the parents who have the problem," he said.

"Vote yes. Vote for the children," Hammer added.

"Get out and vote," Custer said.

Schaible explained that he was not going to convince people how to vote, he said.

He doesn't believe it is wise financially to build all at once, he said.

If the building referendum is approved, Schaible will stand behind it, he said. If not, he'd hope the board would try to get something on the ballot again next year and not wait another five years, he said.

Doering's final remarks included that he is confident that the operating levy will pass, and that "we're a winner even if the building referendum doesn't pass," he said.

"Although it is an opportune time to build, we do have time," he said.

A question from the audience asked the panel "that as stewards of the referendum money, which areas they would cut or direct money to if the referendum fails or passes: infrastructure, basic curriculum, advanced curriculum, sports, or teacher retention/development?"

Weber would leave it to the administration to decide where cuts should be made, he said. Then, the as a board, the final decision would be made.

If it passes, he would direct funds to teacher retention/development and sport, he said. "Some students don't have an interest in anything but sports," he said.

Merritt would spend monies on the basic curriculum. Focus on education and class size is important, Merritt said. He also added teacher retention as an area to spend money.

Merritt would cut after school programs such as sports, art, and drama, he said.

Hammer would want input from teachers, the public, and the administration about how to spend or cut, he said.

If it failed, he would favor keeping the basic curriculum, teachers, and maintenance of the buildings, he said.

Custer would also like staff to help make decisions, she said.

She would emphasize the curriculum, staff, and sports as areas to fund or keep, she said. "It's a tough choice."

Schaible would cut sports, and keep the basic curriculum, advanced curriculum, and staff, he said. If it did fail, he would hope it pass next year, he said.

The board would have to be careful about spending, Doering said. He suggested working with the administration to determine spending. He hopes cuts could be kept at a minimum, he added.

Raymond would spend to improve the agriculture program, media center, technology, and teacher retention, he said.

Another question from the audience was if the building referendum passes, what will happen to the existing buildings?

Custer supports keeping the buildings open, but she doesn't know if it's financially feasible, she said.

"It's the board's understanding that Winsted Elementary and Howard Lake Elementary would not be retained," Raymond said.

He would like to see the district keep Humphrey Elementary and possibly rent it out, he said.

Schaible would sell or bulldoze both Howard Lake and Winsted Elementary, he said. Humphrey Elementary could be leased to the church.

Letting any building sit empty would be cost prohibitive, he said.

Weber would like to see all three buildings used somehow, either rented out or as community centers, he said.

Doering's opinion was to sell both Winsted and Howard Lake Elementary, and rent out Humphrey, he said.

"I don't like the idea of bulldozing any of them, but it may be economically feasible," he said.

Merritt would rent out Humphrey in case the district needed it in the future, sell Winsted Elementary, and either sell or knock down Howard Lake Elementary, he said.

Hammer would keep Humphrey, sell Winsted Elementary, and see if the City of Howard Lake would be interested in Howard Lake Elementary, he said.

Also, the bus garage property would add additional property that could be sold, he said.

Selling of any buildings would be extra income for the district, Hammer added.

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