HJ/EDHerald Journal, Feb. 13, 2006

WISE declines school referendum debate

By Liz Hellmann
Staff Writer

The two committees on both ends of the issue, the Building Unity in the Laker District (BUILD) and the We Insist on Sound Education (WISE), were invited to a public forum to answer questions surrounding the bond referendum proposal, to be voted on Feb. 21.

The proposal consists of two questions, the first is for $27.3 million for a new high school, converting the middle school/high school in Howard Lake to a middle school for grades 6-8, and renovating both Winsted and Humphrey Elementary Schools. The second question asks for additional parking, detached storage area, and technology upgrades, for a total of $450,000.

More than 100 people attended the forum.

In one corner, the BUILD committee was represented by three members, Michelle Heuer of Waverly, Dale Engel of Howard Lake, and Kendell Kubasch of Howard Lake.

In the other corner sat an empty table with the letters WISE printed on a card.

After initially accepting the opportunity to debate, the WISE committee officially declined to attend the meeting.

In their official statement (which was read by moderator Tony Kielkucki at the meeting and is printed in this paper) the WISE cited several reason why they were declining.

Their reasons included not really being invited to participate in the event, only being informed of it; not having their questions about the forum answered by the designated time of noon Feb. 6, and questions they felt were worded to put them on the defensive.

During their opening statement, the BUILD committee addressed that they were “saddened they (WISE) decided not to show up.”

Heuer added she had been looking forward to debating this important issue with them.

Following introductions and opening statements, BUILD addressed the questions prepared for the referendum, and also fielded questions presented by the audience.

The following is a summary of the questions and responses.

Questions presented by the forum:

1) What is the main issue facing HLWW and how can it be solved?

Heuer – “We feel the main issue is the bond, which addresses overcrowding, health and safety issues, and more than $7.4 million in deferred maintenance.”

Engel – The last education building in the district was built in 1966, and an addition in 1976. Sixty percent of the homes in the area have been built since then.

The addition of these homes, new educational laws, such as Title IX, special education, and disability acts have all placed “an added burden on our facilities.”

Kubasch – Open enrollment, repairs, and health and safety mandates all make this a very complex issue.

“Voting ‘no’ won’t solve a leaky roof.”

2) The state has mandated that the district cannot remodel the Howard Lake building if the remodeling amounts to more than 60 percent of what a new building would cost. The HLWW district is currently leasing six portable classrooms at Winsted and Waverly. How would you solve long-term facility problems at HLWW within state requirements?

Heuer – The Department of Education has told the district the Howard Lake site cannot be expanded on. It has only eight acres, and at least 60 are needed.

“Renovation is included in this proposal. I don’t think people understand how much money portables cost.”

The district’s 12 temporary classrooms cost $270,000 annually to lease.

3) HLWW loses about 300 students per year to open enrollment. How would you solve this problem?

Heuer – The building bond will not solve the issue entirely. The community is blessed with two very fine parochial schools.

The school district loses about $4,900 in state aid per pupil, which translates to a $1.3 million loss this year.

Kubasch – “Competition is always healthy, you do need to look at the fact that people like a nice facility they can be proud of.”

If the district is going to keep current students from open enrolling, and attract new students, it needs to stay competitive in facilities and academics.

4) What would the ramifications be if HLWW is unable to persuade all three communities toward a common high school location?

Heuer – “The biggest issue before us would be losing more students to open enrollment, and the deferred maintenance issues.”

Engel – “If the bond doesn’t pass, because of pressures on the school, we may end up having a second rate education.”

Pressures on the school include losing curriculum to lack of space and state funding lost to open enrollment, and potential staff downsizing.

5) The area is growing and attracting young families. Some of these families are paying low taxes in the HLWW district and open enrolling their students at other districts with better facilities and more curricula. How would you propose to remedy this?

Heuer – “We don’t believe all 300 would come back.” However, if the bond passed, it would allow the district more space to develop more curriculum.

Questions asked by the audience:

1) There are 794 plat-approved units in the district – where will these students go to school without a new school?

Kubasch – The district would have to lease more portables, which would end up covering the playgrounds at the both the Waverly and Winsted elementaries.

2) How can you justify the exorbitant cost of the project?

Heuer – “It is a lot of money, but exorbitant depends on who you ask. Some people would say it is cheap.”

Kubasch – It fits the cost of building right now. Homes have gone up in cost, as well. If we wait to build, the cost will just keep going up.

“It is against the law for the school district to bank the money and pay cash.”

The interest rate is around 4 percent, which is lower than you could get for building a private building.

3) Why was the land site chosen, when there are others in the area that are less expensive?

Heuer – The land site is in the geographical center of the district.

Kubasch – The land site has excellent soil conditions, other sites could have been higher in the soil correction needed to build, which would have increased the cost of the project.

4) Name some of the crowding situations at the school.

Kubasch – Several teachers share the same classroom, making it hard to put up demonstrations, a cooler has been converted into a classroom, and students eat in part of the gym, while classes are going on in the other part.

If you walk into the school any day of the week, the teachers or superintendent would be happy to show you the problems.

5) How does the BUILD committee feel about Paul Dorr, an outside consultant from Iowa hired by WISE? What do they know about him?

Kubasch – I respect anyone who is passionate and compassionate about what they believe in.

“I personally don’t like someone from outside telling my neighbors and friends how to think.”

Heuer – “I had an opportunity to speak with Mr. Dorr personally. . . It’s obvious the gentleman doesn’t know anything about our community. He doesn’t want to know anything about our community, which I think is sad.”

Closing statements:

Kubasch – “Keep an open mind, and do the research necessary, stop at the school yourself. Remember, your taxes will go down as the tax base grows.”

Engel – “I’d encourage all of us to become involved and be part of the solution.”

Heuer – “We only have one opportunity to educate our children, they don’t get to do it all over again.”

See also: Statements from WISE, HJ about debate invitation

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