Does USC want to be McLeod West?
Published 8:44 am Tuesday, July 31, 2012
I want to share a real-life story about a school district much like United South Central — the former McLeod West district. I grew up in Stewart, a small farming community much like those in the current USC district. We had two grocery stores, meat market, bank, two restaurants and three gas stations. It was a nice little town. But not unlike most towns of its size it lost residents to larger towns and soon some of the shops closed and enrollment at the school declined. It was forced to pair with another school — our bitter longtime rival Brownton. The town of Brownton is a bit larger than Stewart, but both towns faced the same reality, declining populations.
The first years of this new marriage were rocky to say the least, fights between students, bitter feelings and tough growing pains. The new district McLeod West took years to form, but things worked and it turned into a nice school.
However, the towns shared the same problems, aging buildings, losing students to open enrollment and overall declining populations. Each school had done regular maintenance to the buildings, but their age was showing. Brownton’s building was built in the ’20s and still had asbestos in most of its areas. I could sit upstairs in my English class and shove pencils through the floor and hit people below. Stewart’s building, although a bit newer, was built in the ’30s and ’40s was in better shape but had its problems, too.
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Both buildings needed major handicap-accessible upgrades, fire-code upgrades and overall structural upgrades. The fight started. Each town wanted the new building built on “their side.” Fights started over where it should be built, how it should be built and when it should be built. Bond issue after bond issue failed. Each side wanted the school in their town; they wanted it cheaper, or they wanted to remodel. Nothing worked. The “no” committees got bigger and bigger, with farmers from out of the district funneling money into the vote no campaigns. This went on for a few years.
The budget got worse for McLeod West. Enrollment went down. It was no longer one district; it was back to being Brownton versus Stewart. The state was stepping in, looking at both buildings. It was getting to the point of condemning the Brownton building. They made some upgrades to both buildings. Finally, the budget got so bad they were forced to close one building to save money. They closed the Stewart building. This infuriated the Stewart population.
The district tried one last time to build a new building. It failed miserably. The state stepped in, the Brownton building was no longer safe. The district disbanded and closed.
Turn to current day. Students in the northern part of the old district go to Hutchinson. The residents now added to the Hutchinson district have very little say in what happens. They just pay what they are now forced to pay.
The people in the eastern part of the old district were absorbed into the Glencoe-Silver Lake district. Same story as Hutchinson. You now do what the larger district wants; your vote means little.
To the south the kids were absorbed into the Gibbon Fairfax Winthrop district. This district has the same problems as McLeod West did, old buildings and big debt.
The western part of the district, the city of Stewart, was absorbed into the Buffalo Lake- Hector district. BLH actually changed its name to BLHS, Buffalo Lake, Hector, Stewart district. The only part of the leftover district that has got to keep its name on a school. However the same problems remain, old buildings and debt.
However, no matter what part of the old McLeod West district you live in, they still share one thing. Paying off the debt of a school district that is no longer there. My folks still live in Stewart. They are paying off McLeod West debt, paying taxes for the new Buffalo Lake, Hector District. As well as all the other county taxes. They pay one of the highest tax rates in McLeod County. Stewart has no stores, one bar and one gas station. The old school building is now a charity for feeding children, and they have planted soybeans on the old football field. There is not much left, no school and not too many business left. Think about what your no vote really means. You may save your taxes from going up now, but hang on, and wait to see what happens if USC goes away! Keep the district here, keep your towns alive. Vote yes Aug. 14.