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Letter: LP-A needs solutions, not more defeated referendums

About six weeks ago, the four men whose names appear at the bottom of this letter attended an LP-A Buildings and Grounds Committee meeting at the Lake Park High School. We were hoping to share with the board some ideas that might form the basis for a new, less expensive referendum that would have a chance of passing. The Board Chairperson, Vicky Grondahl, refused to recognize our presence or permit any of us to speak, despite some board members suggesting she do so, so we wrote them a note, put it on their table, and departed. The next day one of the three board members contacted us saying he thought meeting with us was a good idea. At the next School Board meeting, Ms. Grondahl, with obvious reluctance and with the proviso that the Superintendent be present, approved the idea of "permitting" the three Board members to meet with us. Her passing sarcastic comment on the matter was something like: "I certainly hope they have something useful for us."

Our first meeting was on June 4. There was free-flowing, respectful discussion, give and take, and a consensus that the meeting was positive. (See an account of the meeting that appeared in this newspaper, June 4, 2008.)

However, in Superintendent Hogie's report of the meeting to the rest of the Board on June 16, he basically indicated there was little of any worth that came from the meeting. This was received with reserved pleasure by Chairman Grondahl.

Again, on June 23, we four, the three Board members and Mr. Hogie, met. There was excellent give and take, and the School Board members voiced their approval of the meeting's substance. All in all, our points were:

1. Unless the Board can arrive at a significantly less costly referendum, it would be prudent to wait a year before holding another referendum, and spend that year working to build a consensus position among the voters as Mr. John Ryberg from the Minnesota Department of Education strongly recommended in early May of this year.

2. The Board should adopt a business approach to projecting actual costs and future enrollment figures.

3. The Board must recognize that taxpayers who are up to their ears in large building bond debt will not readily approve future operating levies (money to educate the kids, pay for teachers, programs, maintenance, etc.) Nobody wants LP-A to be in constant crisis mode, as is the case with districts all around us where teachers have to be fired and programs eliminated because the taxpayers cannot afford the costs of operating levies. Educating the kids is more important than bricks and mortar.

4. It is common knowledge that the board is choosing to build in the most expensive way possible by hiring an architect and telling him to build a school. Instead, we urged them to consider the large savings that can be achieved by hiring a school construction manager, who would oversee the process.

5. We asked the board members to adopt a pro-taxpayer attitude, to show consideration for the taxpayer as opposed to the way some have spoken and acted.

6. The school board readily acknowledges they do not know how to build a school. Nobody expects them to. With that in mind, we asked the board to invite the president of The Minnesota Association of Educational Facility Professionals (MASMS) to speak to them on how to economically build an efficient, long-lasting, high quality school.

This man is probably the foremost expert in school construction in the state, having built over $250 million worth of schools in the past 10 years. He has received nationwide recognition as a school builder. And he had volunteered to come here and speak free of charge.

At the special school board meeting on Monday evening, Chairperson Grondahl decided against inviting this man to speak because 15 years ago he was associated with the Audubon school. This, from the same person who complains about the grudge-holding people in Audubon being largely responsible for past failed referendums.

None of us four men can recall small-mindedness on such a scale in our accumulative total of over 260 years of living. What is Ms. Grondahl afraid of? Can't she understand why some people question the cozy relationship between the Board and the Zerr-Berg architectural firm?

One of the most thoughtful and long-time board members stated at the meeting that last Sunday he polled 25 members of his church congregation and that "90 percent of them said people in the community are just tired of this. Give it a break. Wait a year."

In response, Ms. Grondahl shrugged and changed the subject.

When another board member politely asked Chairman Grondahl about the idea of waiting a year to hold another referendum so that a consensus among the voters might be reached regarding what would be acceptable to them, Grondahl shot back, "That phrase has been thrown around a lot. I don't know what that means! What do they expect, a 100 percent agreement? What is a consensus anyway? It is a waste of time!"

From there on, Ms. Grondahl was dismissive of ideas that failed to favor what she wants to do: namely hold another referendum in November of the same size as the last four, or larger. (For Ms. Grondahl's information, a member of our group went to the big Webster's Dictionary there in the library where the meeting was held while Ms. Grondahl was emoting and looked up the word consensus. It means harmony, cooperation, or sympathy in different parts of an organization.)

We think back to an earlier school board meeting in May, when Ms. Grondahl was asked about how many times she thought it would take to pass a referendum. She replied that Stillwater, Minn., held 11 referendums before one finally passed. While her motives may be good, her judgment and leadership are seriously flawed.

The cost of energy, and the world and national economy have undergone enormous change in the past four years. The Fargo-Detroit Lakes corridor and its "Lake Park bedroom community" that the board used to flaunt to justify their lofty building plans no longer applies, if it ever did. The only thing that has not changed in the past four years is the board's entrenched position.

We do not feel the district can stand another defeated referendum. It is time to stop and involve the community in finding a solution.

A definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and over again, expecting different results. -- Dan Hughes, Lake Park; Jim Lund, Lake Park; Roland Lampton, Lake Park; Ellis Peterson, Lake Park