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Parents of young children in the MACCRAY School District urging ‘no’ vote as district seeks approval of $20M in bonds

Parents of elementary school children urging a “no” vote Tuesday in the MACCRAY School District are Shelly and Shaun Shubert, clockwise from left, Jason Bedel, Vicki Tews, Jason Behl, and Jennifer and Jason Burnett. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

RAYMOND — Marriage to Shaun Shubert brought Shelly from the West Coast to Maynard, while a job in Willmar and a house to make their home brought Jennifer and Jason Burnett from Chicago to Raymond.

Parents of elementary school-aged children, they love living in towns where they said they feel their children are safe and neighbors look out for one another.

Yet as much as they love the towns, it’s the West and East Elementary Schools that matter more.

“The education is the whole reason we left the big school system,” said Shelly Shubert of the move to her husband’s hometown.

People come to live in small towns for a lot of different reasons, but it’s the school that becomes the heart and soul of what keeps them there, they said.

They are among parents of young children in the MACCRAY School district urging a “no” vote on Tuesday as voters will decide whether to authorize the school board to issue $20 million in bonds to build an elementary school and auditorium/theatre as part of the high school campus in Clara Cit. They see maintaining the two elementary school system as a matter of saving what they consider to be one of the very best educational systems possible.

To be sure, they are convinced that both Raymond and Maynard would experience economic losses if the two schools are closed. The parents supporting “Save MACCRAY Schools” said that the opportunity for their children to attend elementary schools in the towns where they live figured greatly in their decision on where to buy their homes and stay.

But they said the greater loss in closing the two schools will fall to the MACCRAY District. Young parents will start to open enroll their children to the towns where they work. Many of Raymond’s residents commute to jobs in Willmar, while those in Maynard are often holding jobs in Montevideo or Granite Falls. The district currently records a net loss from open enrollment, with 111 leaving compared to 70 from out-of-district coming in, they pointed out.

Down the road, fewer young families will chose to rent or buy homes in the communities. Enrollment in the district will decline as the population of young families drops, they warned.

When Tews first moved to Raymond years ago, neighbors jokingly told her she landed on “retirement row.” Today it’s young families who live in the homes along her street. Jennifer Burnett counts 12 elementary school or younger children on her block in Raymond. It’s a young community today, and growing thanks to its proximity to Willmar and its strong job market.

Like others urging a “no” vote, Jason Burnett also questions the economics of taking on a $20 million debt and its interest costs for the efficiencies expected by operating a single, and modern school building. He and the other parents said many of the same efficiencies — such as reduced heating costs- could be achieved by fixing up the two elementary schools.

Both the East and West Elementary Schools are in need of upgrades, the parents said. They argue that investing in upgrades to the two buildings is more fiscally responsible than building new and possibly bulldozing the existing structures. “I just don’t see the reasoning to spend that much money on a new school instead of fixing the elementary (schools) with what they need,” said Shelly Shubert.

The parents do not believe the age of the elementary school buildings in any way lessens the quality of education their children receive. Classrooms have smart boards and more technology than they’ve seen in many large, urban schools.

Everyone from the school secretary to teachers knows their children by their first names, and communication between school staff and parents could hardly be better, they pointed out. Shubert said that her daughter went from just getting by to grades of ‘A’s’ and ‘B’s by making the move from a big city school to MACCRAY West. “We just bought our house on purpose a block away from the school,” she said.

MACCRAY has enjoyed strong parental involvement and support because of the system it runs, and Tews and other said they fear that support would become a casualty of a single campus system. She said her 11-year-old daughter was recently asked by people seated near here at a wedding reception if she was excited about the prospect of a new school. “She said ‘I can’t believe it. We have a wonderful school and they want to bulldoze it over. I don’t understand it, our school is the heart of our town.”‘

The parents don’t believe that a majority of residents in the district support the bond measure. They pointed out that farmers and landowners in the district will pay the largest share of the tax burden for building new. They expect most will vote no when they look at the costs.

They have planted red vote “no” signs along Minnesota Highway 23 from Priam to Maynard to make their point, are offering rides to those going to vote on Tuesday, and maintain a website and Facebook page.

“We’re passionate about our school,” said Tews of MACCRAY. “We just wish the school board would feel as passionate about the schools as we are.”

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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