Board will develop plan, then schedule meetings

Board will develop plan, then schedule meetings by M. Jill Karolevitz Wakonda School Superintendent Ron Flynn outlined several requirements for the reorganization plan it must make to the school board Monday night, Oct. 8.

His comments were made after members of the Wakonda School Board met for a two-hour executive session with their attorney and architect Glenn Mannes.

"In talking to Ray Christensen (secretary of the SD Department of Education and Cultural Affairs), it looks to me that a plan for dissolving and attaching to another district does not have to be as comprehensive as we thought," he said.

According to statute, Wakonda School District must provide certain information in its plan, including maps of the district, legal descriptions of the district's boundaries, an estimate of the school-age population in the district, certain financial information, a method for accounting assets and liabilities, plus an optional educational program listing. The district must also provide a provision as to how it will handle the requirements for minor boundary changes.

"I would like to have a public meeting or two regarding this," Flynn said.

But members of the school board were reluctant to schedule any meetings before the district had some kind of a plan in place.

"The board can look at the laws (regarding reorganization) and work with you (on a plan), and once some of these things are organized, then we can schedule public open hearings," said Van Moser, president of the school board. "The board has to formulate a plan first."

Moser was also concerned about holding public meetings before the Lovejoy appeal is resolved.

"Based on the litigation we have pending, we should hold off on setting meeting dates," he said.

Gerri Kaufman, Huron, the attorney representing the Wakonda School Board, agreed.

"The law requires you to conduct public hearings on the petition (for reorganization), but when is up to you," he said. "As your board president indicated, does it make sense to hold off on public hearings depending on the litigation? Yes it does."

Kaufman recommended that the school board outline a plan for reorganization "so you have something to take to the public," he said.

The plan to reorganize the school district is the result of a petition filed by Mike Lovejoy, rural Wakonda, in July. The petition states: "We the undersigned qualified voters of the Wakonda School District, petition that the school board of the Wakonda School District 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."

Lovejoy pursued the idea of the petition after the school board decided in May to issue 20-year capital outlay certificates for the construction of a new elementary school adjacent to the existing building. Three failed bond issue elections for construction/remodeling projects led to the school board's decision to go with capital outlay certificates.

As the initial petitions were circulated, Lovejoy sought a permanent injunction to prevent the school board from taking any further action with regard to the issuance of capital outlay certificates and construction. But Circuit Judge Glen W. Eng ruled July 3 that the school board had acted within its legal rights to go ahead with the capital outlay certificates and proceed with construction.

The Wakonda School Board met in special session Aug. 27 and approved plans by architect Glenn Mannes for construction on the new elementary school addition. The board also authorized the architect to advertise for bids, which were opened Sept. 19, and a bid from Welfl Construction of Yankton was accepted. The bid of $1,255,000 was the lowest received from the five companies that submitted figures for consideration.

On Sept. 26, Lovejoy filed a document with the First Circuit Court to appeal the board's decision to authorize the expenditure for construction. The appeal is based upon the action the board must take regarding the reorganization plan. The appeal "alleges that it was an arbitrary, and capricious act and an abuse of discretion by the the board," said Tom Frieberg, Beresford, Lovejoy's attorney.

When he spoke to the school board in July, Lovejoy said "it is my belief and understanding that dissolution is but a form of consolidation or reorganization. I think this petition calls for the combination or consolidation with other schools so we can get some better class offerings for the kids. This petition makes the school board present something to the voters � an option that was never, ever proposed before � the possibility of consolidating or attaching to another school district."

Kaufman, however, explained Monday night that the school board is not called upon to make a plan for consolidation. It is for dissolving the district, and there is a difference, he said.

"I don't think people understand that yet," Kaufman said. "Reorganization means dissolving the district and merging into one or more districts. It does not mean consolidating with another."

According to state statute, "Wakonda must prepare a dissolution plan alone," Kaufman added. "And only Wakonda voters will be voting on the plan. Any other district that is affected, their board has a say on what they want to do. If it were consolidation, both school boards would work jointly."

The Wakonda School Board unanimously voted Aug. 13 to accept the Lovejoy petition to dissolve the school district. Since that time it has 180 days to file the plan with 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.

In other business Monday night, the Wakonda School Board tabled discussion of the construction project following the executive session regarding the Lovejoy appeal.

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