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MACCRAY puts it on the table: Information session highlights differences as $20 million bond vote nears

Amanda Dack of Maynard told board members that continued changes to the concept plans for a central elementary school have left many seniors in the community unsure of what they are voting on. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

MAYNARD — From the high costs associated with operating three school buildings, to the feared harms that could come to two communities where schools might be closed, it was all placed on the tables Tuesday evening.

The MACCRAY School Board hosted its first informal coffee in the library of the West Elementary in Maynard to discuss the upcoming bond referendum. District residents will vote Jan. 7 whether or not to authorize a $20 million bond issue to build an elementary school and theater/auditorium as an addition to the high school in Clara City.

If approved, the East and West elementary schools in Raymond and Maynard would be closed. Funds would be set aside to help the communities find new uses for the buildings, but the possible loss of their schools was clearly a major concern of those decorating the two towns in recent days with bright “vote no” signs.

Larry Macht, Raymond, is among those opposing the bond measure. He and others urged board members to look instead at remodeling the West and East elementary schools. He cited estimates ranging from roughly $12 million to $18 million provided by different architects to show it could be done for less than building what school board members are calling a unified elementary school on the high school campus.

He and others said the remodeled buildings would allow the district to continue providing the best possible education, and keep its students.

Some of the 38 people attending the discussion in Maynard warned that closing the schools would lead many parents to enroll their children elsewhere.

Disenfranchised residents would not be likely to support excess levy measures that are likely to go to voters for renewal in 2015, 2017, and 2019, they warned.

School board members said they do not believe the district can afford to continue operating three schools. Board member Tim Smith said the school’s accountant made the same point only one night earlier when describing the district’s per-student operating costs as higher than those of other districts.

The district would save an estimated $300,000 a year by operating one elementary school in place of the two. That’s nearly $500 per student to improve what can be offered, and it could reduce the amount of excess levies in the future, he said.

And, according to Smith and board chairman Lane Schwitters, the district could provide students with a better education with a new building. It would be designed to accommodate modern technology. Its footprint of three classrooms per grade better fits the enrollment needs of the district. Teachers would be able to work together, and students from the entire district would get to know one another right from the start, he and others pointed out.

Both sides voiced differences and frustrations on plenty of other issues as well.

The school district’s claim that 85 percent of school staff responding to a survey support the single elementary proposal is misleading, opponents charged. Only 51 of the district’s 161 employees responded to the survey, they pointed out.

Others voiced frustrations that the concept plans for the building continue to change. “That’s what a lot of seniors are having issues with around here,’’ said Amanda Dack, Maynard. “They don’t really know what they are voting on.’’

Arguments that closing the elementary schools in Maynard and Raymond would harm property values are not based on facts, and put personal interests ahead of district needs, said supporters of the bond measure.

Schwitters said he checked with the Kandiyohi County assessor’s office. He found no evidence of property value declines attributable to the closing of schools in smaller communities in the county.

A majority of school board members said they are committed to the unified elementary proposal. Schwitters said that the board would likely consider putting the bond issue back to the voters a second time if it failed.

“If it’s not passed, there’s no guarantee we’re going to fix the schools,’’ said board member Scott Ruiter. “I for one am not in favor of it.’’

Whether a new building is built or existing schools renovated, it will come down to an increase in taxes for district residents. Either way, the greater share of that burden will fall on agricultural lands, according to interim Superintendent Loren Hacker.

“I think we can talk all day about dollars and taxes, but the vote is going to come down to emotions,’’ said Marv Boike, of rural Maynard. He was among supporters of the issue urging that residents put the needs of the students and district ahead of community interests.

Information on the project, its estimated tax impact and other issues can be found on the school district’s website as well as on a website maintained by opponents:

Board members also hosted a second coffee Tuesday evening in Clara City, and will host a third at 5:30 p.m. Monday in the East Elementary in Raymond.

Tom Cherveny

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

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