USC school meeting becomes heated

Published 9:30 am Tuesday, July 10, 2012

WELLS — The first of six public meetings to discuss the referendum to build a new school for United South Central turned into a heated discussion among residents of the school district.

The meeting, held by the school board and in conjunction with the district’s superintendent, Jerry Jensen, and the architects for the possible building, was Monday evening at the school’s auditorium in Wells. At times Jensen stepped in to say that while he appreciated everyone’s opinions, that he and the school board were just hoping to inform and answer questions related to the referendum that will be held Aug. 14.

One resident of the school district spoke up to say the tax increase would burden her and her family if the referendum were to pass. When another woman rebutted to say that the new school is a definite need, most of the crowd of more than 90 people clapped. The Rev. Paul Woolverton, of the United Methodist Church of Wells, spoke up to ask everyone not to applaud each other, which could cause an “us versus them” mentality.

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“When we applaud we can polarize in ways that could become unhealthy,” Woolverton said.

Jensen echoed Woolverton’s statement and said he and the board understand all residents will vote for whatever they believe in and said they’re just hoping to inform people about the process.

“Our goal is to make sure you have good, solid information,” Jensen said. “I don’t think it’s healthy to get into one side versus the other.”

Jensen started the meeting with a slideshow showing the existing issues with the current school building. He answered questions about why the school had gotten to this point of disrepair and said the state only allots so much funding each year to schools.

“That money is basically just not adequate,” Jensen said.

Each year the school receives around $200,000 to use on building repairs and upgrades, but that funding must also cover new technology, textbooks and much more.

“There just hasn’t been enough money,” Jensen said. “The board is trying very hard, but they’re also here to provide the best education for the kids.”

Jensen explained that for about 20 years the district has been needing serious upgrades or a new building. The school building is one of the oldest in the state, and last fall the board held a community meeting to see whether building new or remodeling the old building would be an option. It was decided to move forward with a plan to build a new building, at a cost of almost $29 million. The exact figure that will be on the ballot in August is $28.825 million.

Architects from the district’s hired firm, SGN/Wendel, were also at the meeting to explain the idea behind the proposed new building plan and the site layout. The district has made earnest payments to two families, which would create a 63-acre lot within the city limits of Wells where the school could be built if the referendum passes.

Monday’s meeting was one of six meetings for the board to meet with the community and answer questions. The others are at 7 p.m. today at the Kee Theater in Kiester, at 7 p.m. Thursday at Bricelyn’s Community Center, at 7 p.m. Monday at Freeborn’s city and township building, at 7 p.m. July 17 at the Walters Community Center and at 7 p.m. July 18 at the Easton Community Center.

Several residents stayed after the meeting to talk with school board members and the architects. One was Wells resident Mark Nowak, who said he is a graduate of the school and supports building a new structure.

“Education is so important,” Nowak said.

Another Wells resident, Michael Virnig, said he’s in support of the plan for a new building but said he came to the meeting to get more information and to have questions answered.

“It’s a community project,” Virnig said.

School board chairwoman Kathy Krebsbach said she was glad the meeting was well-attended, and she was glad for the chance to answer questions and get more information to the residents.

“I just hope if there are residents who have questions they know to contact board members or the superintendent,” Krebsbach said. “That’s what we’re here for.”