Voters support referendum; school board election results

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 6, 2002


The message &uot;Vote Yes! Yes!&uot; was everywhere in Albert Lea this fall: on signs by the roadside, on letters delivered to homes, on the lips of an army of community backers &045; even on a banner towed behind an airplane overhead.

Albert Lea voters apparently took the message to heart. Both questions on the Albert Lea School District’s referendum ballot passed by comfortable margins Tuesday.

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&uot;I’m proud of the community that they believe in the value of education,&uot; said Dennis Dieser, the co-chairman of TEAM (Together Education Achieves More). &uot;We did everything we came to do, and now we are left with a sense of accomplishment.&uot;

The two-part referendum question had 6,227 who voted yes and 4,557 who voted no on the first question. On the second 5,825 voted yes and 4,919 voted no.

The combined result of both of the questions will mean that the district gets an estimated $2.216 million each year in extra revenue each year over the next five years.

The money, according to district officials, will go help decrease class sizes, increase the amount of elective choice for middle- and high-school students, decrease the amount of study halls for those students, restore the one-mile busing rule for students in grades K-6, begin an all-day every day kindergarten program, and help to restore funding for the cross country and dance teams.

&uot;It definitely is going to promote the quality of the Albert Lea educational system,&uot; Ken Petersen, the chair of the district school board, said. &uot;Relieved would be a good word to describe the way we’re feeling right now. I think it just shows that people realized the importance of this referendum for our community.&uot;

Randy Kehr, a board member of the Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce, said, &uot;Obviously we’re ecstatic. From a Chamber perspective we are very happy. TEAM deserves a lot of credit, as well as the school board, who worked tirelessly at getting this thing passed. I couldn’t be happier.&uot;

Albert Lea residents Jim and Carol Wendel, who voted at Brookside School, said they voted &uot;Yes, Yes.&uot;

&uot;It’s inevitable, there is always a need for money to run the school,&uot; Jim said. &uot;We went to Albert Lea High School and they gave us a good education. I think we need to turn around and do the same for these kids.&uot;

Brendan Hayes, M.D., said he also voted in favor of the referendum &uot;I think education is very important to this community. Better educated people will make better decisions,&uot; he said.

Many of those who voted against the referendum cited taxes as their reason. Michelle Cortines, who voted at the city center, said, &uot;I didn’t want my taxes to go up.&uot;

Pat Everett, who also voted against the referendum, said, &uot;They have us paying enough as it is.&uot;

With the passing of both questions taxes will be increased by 0.15361 percent of the assessed value of the property.

But the positives outweighed the tax increases for a majority of the voters in the district.

Dieser said he hopes the decision will be a building block for education in Albert Lea.

&uot;I don’t think this is the end of it,&uot; he said. &uot;We need to keep working together in building on this. But it is definitely a step in the right direction.&uot;


The four people elected to serve on Albert Lea’s school board had two reasons to be happy Tuesday: They won their races, and the approval of the school’s levy referendum means their jobs will be that much easier.

A former school liaison for the Albert Lea police department and a political newcomer with 12 years of experience volunteering for schools were elected to vacant positions on the District 241 school board, and two incumbents won reelection.

Bill Villarreal, who spent much of his time at the school as the police liaison, got 54 percent of the votes in a four-way contest for a two-year seat on the board. He will take over for the departed Darlene Griebrok-Hahn, who served two years of her four-year term before leaving the board for personal reasons.

&uot;I did okay, didn’t I?&uot; said Villarreal, who spent six years as the ALPD’s liaison to the school district. He said the only campaigning he did was to attend debates. &uot;I guess a lot of kids told their parents to vote for me, is my best guess.&uot;

Jolinda Schreiber, a longtime school-disrict volunteer, won a close battle with Sheila Helgerson for the third of three four-year terms on the board, with 4,385 votes, or 20 percent, to Helgerson’s 4,225, or 19 percent.

&uot;I plan to work as hard as I have all the way these last 12 years,&uot; Schreiber said. &uot;I’m just serving in a different capacity now.&uot;

The run for school board was her first foray into politics.

&uot;I feel it’s an honor and a privilege,&uot; she said. &uot;I really have a lot of confidence in our school system, because they’ve been a partner in my children’s education.&uot;

Board veterans Marjorie Thorn and Tom Eaton both won reelection to four-year terms, with 32 and 29 percent of the votes, respectively.

&uot;I know a lot of people question why we do it,&uot; Thorn said. &uot;You do it because you want to see the best things happen for your community.&uot;

&uot;People think it’s thankless, but it’s not thankless,&uot; she added. &uot;It’s very rewarding. I think you get back more than you put into it.&uot;

Eaton, whose wife Jean was elected mayor the same night, said he was pleased.

&uot;I feel good that the people still want me to represent them on the school board,&uot; he said. &uot;The referendum was a bigger issue to me than my race.&uot;

The candidates said the passage of the levy referendum will be crucial for the disrict.

&uot;I couldn’t imagine another five years of making cuts like we had to last year,&uot; she said. After last year’s levy referendum failed, the board cut $1.1 million from this year’s buget.

&uot;It’s a nice, positive step forward, and it give us the direction the commuity wants us to take,&uot; Schreiber said.