Between the Lines by David Lias Back in January of 2001, as Wakonda voters were preparing to go the polls to decide the fate of a third bond issue election, I went out on a limb and wrote that the voters would approve the issuing of bonds.
I was wrong. The bond issue failed, and set into motion a year of discord in the Wakonda district. The Wakonda School Board, noting that the three bond elections it had held in 2000-2001 couldn�t muster a super-majority of yes votes, decided that most of the district�s people had indicated they were in favor of spending money to improve the Wakonda school�s physical facilities.
So the board decided to fund a new, less expensive building project by issuing capital outlay certificates. The action required no direct decision from the voting public like a bond issue.
Under state law, a school board has the authority to, on its own, issue capital outlay certificates.
This action by the Wakonda School Board wasn�t accepted quietly. Petitions were circulated last summer requiring the Wakonda board to pursue dissolution of the Wakonda district by joining with a neighboring district.
Soon, we people residing in the Vermillion School District found ourselves involved in this controversy. The Wakonda School Board, through a public survey, determined that its patrons, although not crazy about dissolution, would prefer to join with the Vermillion district if it had to.
So, after this less than pithy explanation of what�s been going on in the Wakonda School District this past year, the district�s patrons are about to reach a defining point once again.
They will go to the polls Tuesday to decide whether their district will cease to exist and become part of the Vermillion School District.
This seems like as good a time as any for me to go out on a limb once again and make a prediction. Wakonda voters will decide Tuesday to keep their district intact.
I didn�t have to call Miss Cleo to come to this revelation. The numerous letters to the editor about this issue found on our two opinion pages this week clearly lean in favor of keeping the status quo in Wakonda.
I�ll make another prediction. Tuesday�s favorable vote in the Wakonda district won�t mean an end to the challenges currently facing the school.
The Wakonda school can go ahead and build its new school addition. The Wakonda community can glow in pride after the new structure is completed.
But it won�t make the Wakonda School District immune from what I�ve termed in an earlier column as that ugly �c� word � consolidation.
As I wrote last year, all of us in South Dakota eventually will find ourselves grappling with this issue because of pure demographics.
Gov. William Janklow noted in his 2001 State of the State address that South Dakota faces �a time bomb� of demographic changes as the state�s population grows older and fewer children are born in many areas of the state. He said then that only 49 school districts saw enrollments increase during the past five years, going up by 3,204 students, while the other 124 districts fell by 9,544 students.
The Wakonda School District is with the majority of state schools with dwindling numbers. In 1994, Wakonda�s fall enrollment was 227. Every year since, the district�s student numbers have declined. In the fall of 2001, the school began a new year with the fewest students it has had in seven years � 184.
So why spend money to improve the Wakonda school facility? We have to agree with those who claim that the building needs to be brought to modern educational standards. Otherwise, no surrounding school district would want to consolidate with Wakonda in the future.
It is hoped that the debate by the South Dakota Legislature about what�s best for our schools takes into account the potential concerns about the rising costs of education as well as the perceived inefficiencies of a large number of small school districts.
These inefficiencies include reduced curricula, staff teaching subjects outside their areas of expertise, small pupil-teacher ratios, higher administrative costs per pupil, and difficulties in holding personnel.
And I know, Wakonda people have been banging the gong about how great small schools are � students get one-on-one attention, they get to participate in numerous activities, they don�t get �lost� in the system � but this argument grows weak when one realizes that schools of all sizes in South Dakota, share all of these qualities to a degree.
That�s why greater consolidation of South Dakota schools likely will receive more and more attention.
Wakonda voters may feel they have saved their school and community with their vote against dissolution Tuesday. We don�t believe Tuesday�s decision will be enough, however, to keep Wakonda immune from consolidation for long.