Wakonda dissolution vote fails by landside

Wakonda dissolution vote fails by landside Patrons of the Wakonda School District were greeted by a host of signs urging them to vote against the dissolution of the Wakonda School District as they approached the polls located in the small gymnasium of the school. Unlike the three failed school bond elections held in the district last year, this election was decided by a landslide. by David Lias The green-lettered handmade signs that have sprung up in recent weeks in Wakonda with such messages as "Save Our Town," "Save Our School" and "Vote Against Dissolution" were replaced with a simple, two word expression Wednesday: "Thank You."

Residents of the Wakonda School District voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to keep the district operating.

A proposal to dissolve the district and join the Vermillion School District was rejected 416-151. Voter turnout was 67.3 percent.

A group of district residents submitted a petition for a vote on reorganization.

The petitioners said the district's enrollment had become too small to offer the curriculum and activities needed for graduates to succeed.

Wakonda's enrollment for K-12 stands at 188 students, including 10 foreign exchange students.

Three bond issues to build a new elementary school failed by narrow margins in the past 15 months. The school board later voted to use capital outlay certificates for the $1.1 million project.

The board's decision to spend over $1 million to construct an addition to the school compelled Mike Lovejoy, rural Wakonda, to circulate and file petitions calling for the district's dissolution.

The petition's introduction stated: "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."

Lovejoy pursued the idea of the petition after the school board decided last May to issue 20-year capital outlay certificates for the construction of a new elementary school adjacent to the existing building. The school district can spend up to $1,138,740 in this manner � but not over 1.5 percent of the assessed valuations for the district.

Three failed bond issue elections for construction/remodeling projects led to the school board's decision to go with capital outlay certificates.

"We're afraid we're going to have a new building but no kids. I went to the school board in a neutral position and told them they should do a census with parents to see where the kids are going. It's kind of foolish to build if kids are going to go to other schools," Lovejoy said last May.

In the last month or so, as the election date neared, it became clear that the campaign to keep the school district intact was dividing the Wakonda community.

A Jan. 23 meeting designed to inform Wakonda citizens of issues related to the Feb. 12 election in that community's school district contained a few facts, a bit of misinformation and a whole lot of emotion.

Not long after Superintendent Ron Flynn gave a formal presentation to the crowd that nearly filled the wooden bleachers of Wakonda School's old gym, the meeting became unruly at times.

Citizens who expressed support for the dissolving of the Wakonda district were met with a mixture of condescending laughter and catcalls.

Since Wakonda voters have decided not to dissolve their school district, the Wakonda School Board will continue its plan to build a $1.2 million addition on to the school building using capital outlay certificates.

"There's going to be a new K-4 addition," Flynn said Jan. 23, "and we're going to have a library and computer room facility built on."

He said leftover funds from the proposed building project would be used to remodel the existing Wakonda school facility.

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