'Lovejoy' petition accepted by M. Jill Karolevitz The Wakonda School Board unanimously voted to accept what has now become known as the "Lovejoy petition" to dissolve the school district.
The action took place Monday night, Aug. 13, during a regular board meeting. Petitioners gathered more names after the school board rejected the paperwork for an inadequate total on July 23. It was presented again July 31. After the additional signatures were verified by school business manager Carol Mayer, it was determined that the 15 percent needed were there.
The petition calls for the Wakonda School District to "develop a reorganization plan dissolving the school district by attaching to another district or districts pursuant to SDCL 13-6 and that an election be held on the plan," according to the document's introduction. The school board must now write a reorganization plan within 180 days and file the plan with Ray Christensen, secretary of the SD Department of Education and Cultural Affairs, who must approve the plan, then set a date for an election seeking approval of the voters in the school district.
Prior to the vote of acceptance, the school board heard comments by Judi Sharples, who is opposed to the petition.
"How can the petitioners support something that annihilates yourself?" she asked. "It takes us down a path that we shouldn't be following and it's generating a lot of bad publicity which is unnecessary. Please reject this petition.
"We are not turning out illiterate students here," she continued. "We have a lot of success stories. But the petition leads us to a loss of self-determination and self-government. It's like committing suicide."
Sharples also questioned the validity of the petition because it lists the incorrect number for the Wakonda School District, and because supporters did not have to "start from scratch" in re-gathering signatures after the school board rejected the document in July.
"I think there is sufficient legal grounds to invalidate this petition," she said.
"I agree with you on many of your points," Superintendent Ron Flynn said. "But we are duty bound to accept this petition according to the law."
Van Moser, school board president, added that the school's attorney recommended that the board accept it.
"The longer we put it off, the longer the bad publicity will continue," Flynn said. "If we accept it and write our reorganization plan and have a vote, I think the vote will be in favor of retaining the school. If that's the case, it's behind us."
Mike Lovejoy, who presented the petition, defended his actions once again when Sharples questioned his motives. He initially pursued the idea of the petition after the school board decided in May to issue 20-year capital outlay certificates in the amount of $1.1 million for the construction of a new elementary school adjacent to the existing building. Three failed bond issue elections for construction/remodeling projects � at a much higher cost � led to the school board's decision to go with the certificates.
"We voted on the bond issue three times and it failed," Lovejoy said. "People stopped at our place and told us they didn't feel that it was right to have the building project shoved down our throats anyway."
Lovejoy had also asked the school board in May to "do a census with parents to see where the kids are going," he said in a July interview for the Plain Talk/Times. "It's kind of foolish to build if kids are going to go to other schools." But the board took no action on his request. Hence, the petition.
Moser acknowledged Lovejoy's right to circulate the document, but "we also had the right to do what we did," he said, referring to the capital outlay certificates. "But we would have much rather had the project that the voters voted on."
"This is not a victory thing or ego trip for me," Lovejoy said Monday night. "I just happened to be the one elected to present the petitions. "But nothing in the wording says you have to take a bulldozer to the school. We can have the Wakonda School District at whatever level. It's not going to dissolve your school."
"Yes it is," was the resounding response across the room.
"Look what happened in Mission Hill," Moser said. "When they went with Yankton, they were going to keep a school there, but they couldn't afford it and it closed. That's what will happen here."
Still, the Wakonda School Board is optimistic that a school will remain in Wakonda and is going ahead with construction plans that have been scaled back to reduce the amount spent on the project by $110,000. A total of about 2,200 square feet have been dropped from the plans, with the resulting savings to be used for improvements on the existing building. The elementary addition could be put out for bids as early as Aug. 23, with bids due by Sept. 13.
"Once bids are accepted, construction could start any time after that," Flynn said. "The deadline for completion would be in time for next fall's classes."