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Build new or repair?

After four sometimes-contentious public meetings to gather input on what to do about the district's aging school buildings, the Lake Park-Audubon School Board will make a decision at a special meeting 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 30, at the media center in the Lake Park High School.

"A lot of these things (that came up at the public meetings) were addressed previously, but there are some new things that came out of the meetings," said Superintendent Dale Hogie. "There is also a proposal from the concerned taxpayer group and another letter from an LP-A resident. Anything that comes up as a serious suggestion we'll look at it and then come back to discuss them."

Some examples of new ideas include the "three schools" suggestion to limit new construction that came up at one of the meetings, Hogie said.

Over the next few weeks, the board will review a four-page summary of recommendations from the small group meetings held Aug. 13, and the district's architect will be asked to provide feasibility information on the new suggestions, with the data then going to school board members and staff for consideration.

The school board will then hold a special meeting, set for 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 30, at the media center in Lake Park High School to determine the best solution for improving the district's facilities.

"At this point in time we need to explore all options to find the best solution," said Board Chair Vicky Grondahl.

Petition presented

Also at the regular school board meeting Monday, George Kohn of Audubon presented a petition with about 200 signatures of LP-A registered voters, asking that the board rescind its November 2006 decision to extend the terms of office of school board members by one year.

The board took the action as a money-saving plan endorsed by the Minnesota School Boards Association to switch to even-year school board elections. It's cheaper to hold the school board election the same time as the general election, held during even years.

The terms of board members Lori Bartunek, Dale Binde and Rick Olson would have expired at the end of this year, but will now expire at the end of next year instead.

The Detroit Lakes School District did the same thing last year, and a total of 82 school districts have extended their members' terms to provide for even-year elections since 1994, according to the School Boards Association.

"The petition requests that the November 2006 action of the school board members who voted to extend the terms of office by one year be rescinded," Kohn said in a news release that accompanied the petition presentation. "We the petitioners ask that the school district voters be allowed to vote on the three board members who would have been up for election this year before the end of the year."

Kohn continued: "When district voters were asked to sign the petition, the comments heard were 'they can't extend their own term, can they?'"

Signature-gatherers explained that the board was going by a state law that presumes that, because it isn't legal to cut the term of an elected board member, it "must be assumed those board members who have completed their term are also extended for another year."

There is nothing in the law that prohibits the board from holding an election, Kohn said, adding: "because of the current bond issue, there can only be one conclusion drawn from the resolution. The board and administration want to keep intact for one additional year the present board to further attempts at passing a school bond."

Hogie said a copy of the petition will be submitted to the Minnesota School Boards Association, and from there the matter will likely be forwarded to the district's legal counsel, Kristi Hastings, of Pemberton, Sorlie, Rufer & Kershner firm of Fergus Falls.

The history of the controversy dates to 1994, when the Legislature required school districts to change their elections from annual elections for three-year terms held in May to biannual elections for four-year terms held in November of either the even-numbered or odd-numbered year, according to a letter from Greg Abbott, associate director of communications for the Minnesota School Boards Association.

Lawmakers understood they were asking school boards to choose which year they wished their general elections to be held, and that some boards would later decide they had made a mistake and seek to change to another year.

To avoid having to pass bills for every school district, city or special district that later decided to change years, the Legislature added a provision to Session Law Chapter 646, Section 26.

It allows a board to change its election to an even-numbered year by approving a resolution or ordinance that "contains an orderly plan for the transition," Abbott said.

"This process has been reviewed with the then-staff of the Secretary of State's office and by Peter Wattson in the Office of Senate Counsel," Abbott continued. "The resolution was drafted by Education Law Attorney Tom Deans, who was involved in drafting the legislations. The Attorney General insisted that if a person has been elected to a three- or four-year term, their term cannot be shortened to reach this transition. Therefore, the only option is to add a year to terms."

In other action, the board heard principals' reports, approved low bids for dairy and bread, approved fuel and trash quotes, and approved several personnel changes, among other items.

High school science teacher Reed Weisenburger has resigned to return to his home district with future plans for career changes. He will be replaced by Rochelle Becker, who had been working as a science instructor half-time.

"Our art position has been filled, the science position is filled and we have our football coach, so we're ready to go," said High School Principal Kevin Ricke.