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LP-A school bond defeated by less than 100 votes

Voters on Tuesday narrowly rejected a $26 million plan to build a new high school and upgrade the elementary school in Lake Park-Audubon.

The vote was 1,138 "no" to 1,045 "yes," a difference of just 93 votes.

In the Audubon precinct, which was counted first, the vote was 677 "no " to 353 "yes."

In the Lake Park precinct, the vote was 461 "no' to 692 "yes."

A crowd of about 40 "yes" supporters, mostly high school students, watched the LP-A School Board canvass the votes Tuesday evening.

"My work isn't done, this isn't over yet," said an angry Rick Ellsworth after the meeting. Ellsworth, of Audubon, was disappointed that so many Audubon-area voters didn't support the project.

"It's called cutting off your nose to spite your face," someone said.

"I'm starting to believe that's true," Ellsworth said with a shake of the head.

George Kohn of Audubon, a leader of the "no" group, said the majority of voters are worried about higher taxes.

"The people who are concerned about taxes in the Lake Park-Audubon district spoke," he said. "They prevailed. Not by much, but they prevailed."

Kohn said emotions were running high at the Audubon Elementary School where the canvassing took place.

"I was pretty lucky to get out of there," he said. "One guy ran up to me and said, 'You won't drink the water in Audubon, but you expect my kids to.'" Others yelled and swore at him, he said.

"They want to make it look like this is all the fault of one person, but this was an effort by a lot of people," he said. "We (the 'vote no' group) all dug in and looked at different areas and informed the voters why it was not necessary to make this expenditure," Kohn said.

School board members, who had unanimously supported the building bond, weren't sure of their next step.

"We'll have to regroup and see what our next option is -- the problem hasn't gone away," Ellsworth said.

"Nothing has been resolved," added board chairwoman Vicky Grondahl.

"Something has to be done, we can't give up," added Board Member Dale Binde.

The last election on essentially the same plan failed by just over 200 votes, said Superintendent Dale Hogie. "We're confident this is the best plan," he said.

If action isn't taken soon on the schools, more students will open-enroll to other districts, depriving the LP-A district of per-pupil state funding and leading to a downward financial spiral that could be impossible to pull out of, he said.

Operating dollars spent on repairs are dollars that can't be spent on education, leaving students shortchanged, he added.

The board hasn't talked about what it would do if the building bond referendum failed. The facilities committee will take up the matter and make a recommendation to the full school board, Hogie said.

The district has to wait 180 days to bring the school bond proposal back to voters -- if that's the route the school board decides to take, Hogie said.

There was a lot of enthusiasm on both sides of the issue this time around, he added. "People are really polarized (in their positions) right now -- they're either a strong 'yes' or a strong 'no,' he said. "We can't continue in the building we are in now -- it's a matter of finding out, what will the community support?"

Kohn said it's not fair that the school board can keep putting the issue on the ballot.

"Once again the minority is controlling the majority," he said. "The state needs to step in -- three times (building bond referendums) in 18 months is a lot."

In November, the referendum failed by 204 votes. Voters also defeated a referendum in December 2005 for a different facilities plan.

This referendum would have funded a new grade seven through 12 building in Lake Park and a renovated elementary school with some new construction in Audubon.

It would have cost the owner of a $100,000 property about $236 a year for 25 years.

Kohn believes the referendum votes are designed to wear down "no" voters, but says that's not going to happen.

"That's the intent, but of course the 'no' voter is not going to roll over and play dead," he said.

Grondahl went out of her way to thank "all the people who worked really, really hard to pass this," she said. "Volunteers, parents, students -- people were much more involved this time. We had some really dedicated people who put hours and hours of time into this -- going door-to-door, distributing brochures, putting up signs ... a lot of people in the community put their heart and soul into it this time."