Round Lake to vote on schools
ROUND LAKE -- After holding two public meetings in May, the residents of the Round Lake-Brewster School District will vote on Tuesday to decide the fate of the district.
In February, Round Lake-Brewster Schools announced it would begin the consolidation process. If the projected enrollment continues, both school districts would be in an unstable financial position by the end of the 2014-2015 school year. If the districts were to reach that point, the Minnesota Department of Education would prohibit further consolidation efforts, which could cause both the Round Lake and Brewster School Districts to be dissolved.
The joint school board of the two districts found that the most financially and educationally viable option would be to operate a pre-kindergarten through fifth grade elementary school and a sixth through eighth grade middle school in the present elementary school facility in Brewster. The Round Lake high school building would be closed and the ninth through 12th grade students would attend neighboring school districts on a tuition basis.
In preparation for the vote, public hearings were conducted May 8 and May 15 to gather public comment and answer questions.
"While those meetings were not well attended, we had some primarily senior citizens that were very interested in what was going to happen to the future of the school district," said Cornelius "Corny" Smit, superintendent. "They asked a lot of good questions."
At both meetings, concerns were raised about the future of the Round Lake high school building and the community fitness center located in the school.
Unfortunately, the answers to those questions would be decided by the consolidated school district board which will form if the consolidation is approved.
"That was an issue that was raised over and over again. We had to say that until the new board is elected, we can't tell you anything other than the fact that we're closing the building and the high school students will be tuitioned-out to Harris-Lake Park, Fulda, Heron Lake-Okabena (Southwest Star Concept) and Worthington," Smit said. "The current board couldn't respond to the questions, because it would be the consolidated school district that would deal with those."
Because Minnesota students have until July 1 to open enroll in other school districts, Smit said it is impossible to give exact numbers about how many students will go to each neighboring district.
"It looks like more will be going to Harris-Lake Park than we anticipated and there will be a few more attending Worthington than originally had been indicated," he said. "That would mean that there will be fewer students that will probably attend Fulda or Heron Lake-Okabena (Southwest Star Concept)."
Another concern that was raised was the effect the proposed consolidation could have on residents' taxes.
"In almost every instance, if the consolidation isn't successful and the Round Lake district were to dissolve, taxes would increase, with agriculture property in particular, and some of the property taxes would increase more than fourfold," Smit said.
The amount that property taxes could increase would vary by property, but Smit said the higher value homesteads would especially be hit hard.
"It's going to be parcel-specific. In the low valued homesteads, it isn't going to make a great deal of difference because the taxes are already lower," he said.
Since the public meetings, a "Vote Yes for Consolidation" committee was formed by community members, teachers and support staff to encourage residents of the two districts to support the consolidation.
"We just want to see the consolidation go through," said Brenda Stanton, a rural Round Lake resident. "We met after a school board meeting one night and decided to come up with a group."
With the help of Education Minnesota, a prominent advocate for public education in Minnesota, the group of about 20 developed a plan to reach the voting members within the district through door-to-door visits and a postcard mailing.
"From everyone that I've talked to that has been out knocking on doors with us, we've gotten a very positive response from the community, and we're all happy to hear that," Stanton said. "There was one group that had one person that said they would vote no, but otherwise, I haven't heard any negative responses."
All registered voters in the Round Lake and Brewster school districts are encouraged to vote from 3 to 8 p.m. Tuesday. The polling location for Brewster ISD 513 will be the Brewster School Gym. The polling location for Round Lake ISD 516 will be the Round Lake School Cafeteria.
Anyone unable to vote on Tuesday can cast an absentee ballot at the Nobles County Auditor-Treasurer's Office until 5 p.m. on Monday.
"They can also request a mail-out ballot, but they have to get it back to the office by Election Day -- so time is running out," said Sharon Balster, Nobles County auditor-treasurer, on Thursday. She added that as of Thursday afternoon, 15 absentee ballots had been received by the Nobles County Auditor-Treasurer's Office.
As a member of the "Vote Yes for Consolidation" committee Stanton isn't shy about urging voters to approve the consolidation.
"We encourage all the Round Lake and Brewster district members to get out and vote, and we just hope they'll vote yes," she said.
While Smit is unable to publicly take a position on the measure, he echoed Stanton's hope that as many district residents as possible will be at the polls on Tuesday.
"I'm in a position where I can't advocate a yes vote, but I would urge all citizens of both Round Lake and Brewster to take an active role in the consolidation process and go to the polls next Tuesday and vote their conscience," Smit said.
Daily Globe Reporter Alyson Buschena may be reached at 376-7322.