Wakonda trims building proposal Lovejoy submits additional petitions

Wakonda trims building proposal Lovejoy submits additional petitions by M. Jill Karolevitz The Wakonda School Board met Tuesday morning, July 31 and approved a reduction in plans for the $1.1 million elementary school addition that will be paid for with capital outlay certificates.

Superintendent Ron Flynn suggested building a facility for grades K-4 instead of K-6, thus reducing the amount of money to be spent on the project by $110,000. A total of about 2,200 square feet would be dropped from the plans. The resulting savings, he said, could then be used to make improvements to the heating system in the existing school, along with adding fire doors and frames to the old building. In addition, Flynn touched on the subject of consolidation discussions with Irene, "because it's possible that they may end up in the same situation we are," he said.

John Haver, a member of the audience, said he is happy the consolidation issue has finally been brought up.

"Open enrollment and home schooling have caused us to think about this some more," Flynn replied.

Haver said that students are leaving the Wakonda district, not because of the building, but "their educational needs are not being met. Their concerns need to be studied," he said.

Flynn pointed out that Wakonda students have excelled in test scores.

"Academically, the statistics show that we've done a good job in that area," he said.

As talk turned to what Wakonda has to offer its students, Ruth Williams, retired Wakonda School instrumental music instructor, suggested that bigger school districts "can offer so much more variety."

Stephanie Light, a teacher at Wakonda School and a member of the building committee, defended the small school atmosphere from which her daughter has benefited.

"The Wakonda teachers don't let her settle for less than her best," Light said.

She added that regardless of any talks or decisions about consolidation, space is needed now for Wakonda students. Light said additional classrooms would help accommodate future students from another school if Wakonda was to consolidate.

"The issue is still the same as it was three years ago when the building committee started talking about an addition," she said. "There's not enough room. And if we want to consolidate, we have to have enough space to bring these kids in.

"The idea that 'if we build it they will come' was never brought up at any of our building committee meetings," Light continued. "The issue is that we want to provide the best for the kids we have here now. We're not trying to wreak havoc on the community. We just want to help our kids and help our teachers teach better."

Following more discussion by the board and audience � covering every subject from the quality of education at Wakonda, to the availability of electives and test scores of Wakonda students � a motion was approved to take three rooms off the construction plan and use the savings to work on improvements to the existing building.

The board also received additional petitions calling for the dissolution of the school district from Mike Lovejoy. The petition had been rejected by the board July 23 because it fell short of the required number of signatures. But Lovejoy circulated more, received 19 additional signatures, and presented them Tuesday.

First, however, an offer was suggested to the school board by Lovejoy's attorney, Tom Frieberg of Beresford, before he presented the petitions.

Frieberg said if the school board would be willing to discuss the issue of consolidation before construction, the petitioners would be willing to forego their actions.

"They would like to see the board take action toward consolidation before a building project is started," Frieberg said. "If it is found that consolidation is not feasible and wouldn't work out for the board or community, then move on with the building project. Or if it comes out that it's necessary to have additional facilities here with consolidation, then that's the way to go."

Frieberg told the board that the capital outlay certificates do not need to be spent this year. School board president Van Moser noted, however, that there would be interest costs. Board member Jim Morrison agreed.

"The longer we wait, the more it will cost," he said. "I feel it's a good investment to build. Our need is space. Consolidation is wonderful, and I'm not against it, but I just want a better building."

Morrison added that the addition could also be used as a strong tool if consolidation negotiations were to take place.

Board member Ron Nelson agreed.

"Consolidation will probably happen," he said. "But we need the strength to offer something better."

As the discussion became more heated by the audience and others � ranging from past bond issue votes, whether money is the issue, open enrollment and raising taxes � audience member Brenda Brue voiced her frustration with the apparent stalemate. She urged the school board to accept the petition and move on.

"Get a (reorganization) plan and get it to a vote. Let the people decide," she said. "This has torn the community apart. It's nothing but a war."

Williams supported the idea of studying consolidation before building.

Long-time community supporter Warren Kuhler said, however, that the process takes time.

"It doesn't happen overnight," he said, alluding to a failed attempt 30 years ago to merge with Gayville and Volin. As a member of the building committee, Kuhler also reiterated the immediate need for space at Wakonda School, but, he added, the parties involved in any discussion should not forget the students.

"We have to take care of what we have here � one of the most precious commodities we have, our children," he said. "The building is needed and shouldn't be put off. Consolidation will come, but in the meantime, education goes on."

Frieberg ultimately came to a conclusion after a brief out-of-the-room discussion with Lovejoy.

"It's apparent that the board wants to go ahead with the building, so we submit the petition," he said.

"We gave them an offer, but they refused," Lovejoy said after the meeting.

The Wakonda School board now has 15 days to verify the names. When signature validation is complete, and school board members accept the petition, they have 180 days to develop a reorganization plan to be submitted to Ray Christensen, secretary of the SD Department of Education and Cultural Affairs. Christensen must approve the plan, then set a date for an election seeking approval of the voters in the school district.

Initially presented by Lovejoy to the school board July 9, the petition states: "We the undersigned qualified voters of the Wakonda School District No. 63-1, petition that the school board of the Wakonda School District No. 63-1 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."

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