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School proposal divides MACCRAY

A portion of MACCRAY West is pictured in Maynard. The communities of Maynard and Raymond, where the district’s second elementary school is located, are concerned that the loss of the elementary schools in favor of a central elementary school at the high school in Clara City would harm their communities. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

CLARA CITY — One longtime observer noted that the last time a crowd packed the high school cafeteria for a MACCRAY School Board meeting was back in the days when the board consisted of 18 members, six each from the original Clara City, Maynard and Raymond districts.

But pack it they did on Monday night, when the MACCRAY School Board voted 5-1 to put a $20 million bond issue to voters to build a central elementary school and fine arts building at the high school in Clara City.

Applause and comments at the meeting suggest that the bond issue will be the subject of much debate in the district in the weeks preceding the Jan. 7 referendum.

“You’ve got to look into these things,’’ said Richard Groothuis, mayor of Maynard. “Please, they are spending our money.’’

Groothuis pleaded with school board members on Monday to reconsider their contract with Energy Services Group, of Wayzata. He questioned the company’s contract offering to provide pre-referendum architectural and engineering services at no cost, contingent on being awarded the project to design the school if financing is approved.

The cities of Maynard and Raymond urged school board members to consider an alternative plan to upgrade the district’s two elementary schools located in their communities. They presented an analysis by Lightowler, Johnson and Associates of Fargo, N.D., to upgrade the elementary school in Maynard for $4.9 million and the elementary in Raymond for $5.6 million, as compared to estimates of $9 million and $9.3 million for the respective schools prepared earlier by Energy Services Group.

While Groothuis and others made it clear that Maynard and Raymond are concerned that the loss of the elementary schools would harm their communities, they also argued that education is well-served under the current system. He pointed out that the MACCRAY elementary schools have performed well above the state average in state testing.

Some challenged school board members for investing $7 million to upgrade the high school building, but refusing to undertake similar work in the two elementary schools.

Some warned board members that the loss of the two elementary schools would disenfranchise many from the original Raymond and Maynard districts. “That’s how they are going to vote,’’ said Kenneth Koenen, a resident of Havelock Township. The township in central Chippewa County is northwest of Maynard.

Board members also heard from residents who support the project to build a central elementary school.

Meghan Wiebe told board members that she was “100 percent” for it because it would improve educational opportunities for children. “All three communities benefit from a new school,’’ she said.

Upgrading aged buildings would not improve the educational system, and only delays the inevitable, according to Linsey Saue, who also addressed the board.

“It’s slapping a band-aid on a problem for now,’’ said Saue.

MACCRAY staff members favor the proposal by a strong margin as well. Interim Superintendent Loren Hacker said an online survey found that of 50 respondents, 43 supported a central elementary and 7 opposed it.

Hacker told board members that the plans for the project have been submitted as required by state statute to the state Department of Education, which has not yet acted on them.

Tom Cherveny

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

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