United South Central prepares for votePublished 11:38am Friday, August 10, 2012
Can school district replace one of the state’s oldest schools?
An important vote is just around the corner for the United South Central School District and two groups have formed — one advocating for the vote to fail and one advocating for it to pass.
Residents of the school district will see on the primary ballot Tuesday a question asking if they support the school’s $29 million plan to build a new facility, paid for over 20 years by an increase in property taxes.
Two local groups have formed on either side of the issue. The group hoping residents will vote no is called Taxpayers for Dollar$$ and Sense. It argues that since enrollment in the district is declining it doesn’t justify building a new facility and says too much of the tax burden falls to agricultural landowners.
The group hoping for a yes vote is USC — Believe in the Future. It argues that enrollment will increase again and says a new school would be good for the whole area and not just the Wells community.
The vote comes as the USC school board saw the need for drastic upgrades to the current building or to build a new facility. After community meetings the board decided to move forward with the plan to build a new school and put the question on the August ballot so that if it passes then construction could start next spring. If the vote does not pass Tuesday and if another referendum were to be held later this year and pass, there would still not be enough time to start construction in the spring, according to Superintendent Jerry Jensen.
“The board would have to think hard about the project if they were going to suggest another new facility,” Jensen said.
He said another option the board has if Tuesday’s vote doesn’t pass is to bring about the remodeling plan again, which would still need a referendum to pass. The school district is made up of students from Wells, Easton, Bricelyn, Freeborn, Kiester and Walters, and voting places will be in those towns and other townships in the area as well. Polling places close at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, and results will be at AlbertLeaTribune.com as soon as all the votes are tallied.
The Taxpayers for Dollar$$ and Sense group in a statement said that students aren’t educated by a building and that the emphasis on a child’s education should “continue to be on what is being learned, not where it is learned.”
The group also argues that since enrollment has dropped from about 800 students to about 600 students in the last five years that those numbers don’t justify building a new school. Another point the group made was that the added tax burden will make those in the community in poverty or on fixed incomes have even more of a burden.
Declining an interview with the Tribune, the group submitted a written statement.
USC — Believe in the Future has been using social media to try to get the word out that they support building a new school. The group has a page on Facebook with 350 members and has videos up on YouTube. A member of the group, Ila Teskey, said the group has residents from all the communities that make up the school district, not just Wells. She also said the group hasn’t hired anyone to promote the group and that it’s made up of only local people.
“We’ve had weekly meetings with about 30 people at each meeting — and different people every time,” Teskey said. “People from all the communities, too.”
The group has bought newspaper and radio ads in addition to using social media. Teskey said having people be able to ask questions and get them answered by the group on Facebook has helped quash rumors.
“One big thing we’re trying to get out there is to address farmers to get the right information,” Teskey said.
Teskey said the group is urging all residents of the district to call the property tax hotline that’s been set up to get the actual amount each home or landowner would owe. The number is 1-800-552-1171, and your property ID number will be needed.