MACCRAY 'vote no' supporters see value in keeping community setting
CLARA CITY -- An informal group uring a "no" vote on the bond issue in front of MACCRAY voters next month says students in the MACCRAY Elementary Schools are getting great educations in a small community setting where they feel safe, their parent...
CLARA CITY - An informal group uring a "no" vote on the bond issue in front of MACCRAY voters next month says students in the MACCRAY Elementary Schools are getting great educations in a small community setting where they feel safe, their parents are engaged, and their teachers give them the individual attention they need.
That's among the points the group makes as members urge a "no" vote in the Feb. 7 referendum. The $38.8 million bond issue would finance construction of a new elementary school and an auditorium on the high school campus in Clara City and the razing of the East and West Elementary Schools in Raymond and Maynard.
"I like the system we have and the results show that we are actually doing a really good job," said Cameron Macht, of Raymond, of the three-campus system the district operates now.
A single campus would offer some efficiencies, such as for transportation, Macht said. But the smaller, community-based elementary system offers benefits that have much bigger impacts on the overall educational outcomes of its students. And, he argues, the district could take advantage of technology to better connect teachers and students at the two elementary schools.
"Vote No" supporters said they oppose removing the elementary buildings. "To go ahead with a plan to get rid of two, pretty sound buildings and we build new and, in the end, we would not have added any new square footage, well, how did we really plan for the future in that way?" asked Chris Schueler, a dairy farmer and 1995 MACCRAY graduate.
"Vote No" supporters said they would like to see the district invest in needed upgrades to the elementary buildings as assets for the district and the communities in which they are located.
"I wouldn't tear my house down because it needed normal maintenance," said Jason Bernet. "You fix what you can fix."
He sees the two elementary schools as important to the district and its future. "One of the reasons I bought a house in Raymond is that the school is going to be right down the road and the kids would get to walk to school like I did when I was a kid," Bernet said.
"No" supporters said they do not believe the district will see an increase in students through open enrollment with a single-campus system. Schueler said parents who open enroll their children "choose to do so because of what they see a district has to offer, and that is already there," he said of MACCRAY's educational programs. "It is not in new brick and mortar."
The "Vote No" supporters emphasize that they favor investing in the district's future. As individuals, many said they support building an auditorium, although they question the current plan. They charge that the current project has been "nickeled and dimed" to stay below a $40 million bond level, and consequently the district's needs are being shortchanged. The plan leaves the district without the gym space it needs, and a 500-seat auditorium may be smaller than needed, they said.
Some also question the idea of leaving the athletic fields at the East and West sites when the funds for facilities to support the fields were significantly cut to keep costs under $40 million.
"Vote No" supporters object to the overall price tag for the project, and how the burden of that cost will fall disproportionately on agricultural land in the rural district.
"There should be a more fair, equitable way for these things if it would happen," said Noah Hultgren, a farmer in the district. "It's difficult right now," he said, pointing out that commodity prices have basically been cut in half during the last three or four years.
"There is not a lot of room for error in the agricultural economy right now," said Schueler, who said as a dairy farmer he is also concerned about the tax impact on agricultural property.
Hultgren points out that a homeowner with a residential property worth $100,000 would pay $141 per year toward the bond, if it is approved. A farmer with 1,000 acres valued at $7,500 per acre would pay an additional $14,750 per year.
It also concerns him that the bond referendum is scheduled well before the legislative session ends. There has been discussion of property tax reform to reduce the burden on agricultural lands in the Legislature, but its fate will not likely be known on Feb. 7 when the referendum will be conducted.
But Hultgren said it's important for him to point out that he is on the "no" side regardless of the property tax situation. The three-campus system is working very well, and he's among those who would like to keep it, he explained.
The MACCRAY district is in good financial situation, and "no" supporters said there is plenty of opportunity to come to a consensus on how to invest in a three-campus system. "Let's take a deep breath. Let's all figure out a way to come together and figure this out," Bernet said.
The "no" supporters said they hope that a second defeat at the polls for a single-campus proposal will lead school board members to scrap the idea, and focus instead on how to move forward as a three-campus system. Said Macht: "The townships and communities have consistently supported our three schools. The push for one campus seems to divide us."