Special meeting set for Tuesday
By Traci L. Weisenbach
For the Advertiser
OWENDALE — Given the nine vote defeat of the $2.99 million bond proposal Tuesday — the second narrow bond issue defeat in a year — the Owendale-Gagetown Area Schools Board of Education expected there would be at least a handful of concerned people at the board meeting Wednesday night.
One man — William Kretzschmer — came to the meeting to talk about the bond issue, during the public comment portion of the meeting.
“I back this school district 100 percent,” said Kretzschmer, who previously served on the school board for seven to eight years. “I commend this board. You turned things around.”
Kretzschmer said he was “disgusted” about the bond issue defeat. According to numbers provided by the district, 175 people voted yes and 184 voted no. The district has about 1,100 registered voters, so about 32.6 percent of the voters visited the polls.
In May 2012, voters turned down the district’s $3.08 million bond request by 11 votes. The voter turnout was 24.6 percent.
The $2.99 million bond issue would have required a levy of 2.95 mills. This amount would’ve decreased over the 25-year bond issue.
Kretzschmer had some theories as to why the second bond was defeated.
He said he believes the police millage vote in Gagetown had a negative effect on the $2.99 million bond request from the school district. Those in Gagetown voted in Gagetown, and while they ended up supporting the police millage, the support wasn’t there for the school millage request. He said he believes the residents there thought they couldn’t afford to say yes to both millages and they ultimately decided that a police millage was needed more than a school millage.
“A meeting (about the bond issue) in Gagetown would’ve made a lot of difference,” Kretzschmer told the school board.
Like many other people have heard over the years, Kretzschmer has heard that Owen-Gage is going to close its doors. He said this ongoing opinion is a reason why some people voted no.
“People who voted no don’t realize that they’re still going to pay to fix up the school,” he said. “This school is not going to close.”
The school board members thanked Kretzschmer for coming and showing concern. They said next time, he should bring people with him.
When it came time during the meeting for the board to talk about the bond, Board President Dan Warack called the defeat “disappointing.”
“I don’t have a full understanding of what people really want,” Warack said. “I just want what’s best for our kids. We have an obligation to take care of our school.”
He and other board members agreed that having a meeting about the bond issue in Gagetown would’ve been a good idea. Some school officials believe there are still some hard feelings among those in Gagetown after the closing of the elementary school several years ago.
Owen-Gage Superintendent Jim Wencel said the district hasn’t had a debt millage for many years, and people have become used to not having to pay such a millage.
“Once you let a debt millage run out, trying to get it back is like pulling teeth,” he said. “There is never a good time to ask for more money.”
Despite the defeat and the fact that there are several maintenance issues with the building, such as a leaking roof in the gymnasium, broken toilets and aging buses, the school is not about to close its doors anytime soon, Wencel said.
The reality remains, however, that there isn’t enough money in the fund balance to take care of all the building repairs and upgrades needed The fund balance currently totals about $179,000. He said if the district isn’t careful, it could spend all of its fund balance in one school year, leaving the district — once again — in a deficit situation.
Wencel said the bond proposal would’ve passed if more people would’ve come out to vote, especially in Owendale. He said every day, school staff members go the extra mile to take care of students’ needs, often being parental-like figures in the students’ lives. He was hoping, then, more parents would’ve supported the school by traveling a short distance to vote.
He said the problem is many people have become complacent with the current condition of the school and they figure the school will just keep operating, no matter what issues there are with the building.
Wencel said he knows there is support within the district for the school – he witnesses it all the time with athletic events, for which parents drive a long distance to see their children play.
“I know there is pride here,” Wencel said.
However, for some reason, he said, that same pride isn’t carrying over to support the upgrading of aging school facilities. The last renovation at the school was made in 1978.
Board members said they need to have community members come forward to let them know what they want – do they want to keep up their school or let it fall apart? Do they want another bond election?
“People in the community have to decide is this is what they want,” said board member Matthew Roemer.
Board members talked about the possibility of distributing a survey to parents, asking them what they want where their school is concerned.
School board members said parents may need to be reminded of all the benefits students have with a small school, such as small class sizes and more interaction with students and teachers.
They also discussed the possibility of consolidation or annexation. Wencel said consolidation with a neighboring district is unlikely, unless the state forces Huron County to have one district.
“Area superintendents are already talking about consolidation,” he said.
Wencel said the school could be kept in both a consolidation or an annexation, but it would be unlikely and the district would not have much of a say in most of the scenarios that could happen.
“It really depends on what type of consolidation would take place,” he said. “If it was not a forced consolidation from the state and one that was voted on, then the school boards and voters would decide the fate of the building usage. In annexation, the school district could be split up among the area schools or could be annexed by one district.”
However, in all of these cases, property owners would still need to pay some type of debt retirement millage to the school district in which they own land, Wencel said. Therefore, Owen-Gage taxpayers would see their taxes increase, much more than the 2.95 mills they would pay with a $2.99 million bond issue.
Wencel noted with consolidation or annexation, the only way the Owen-Gage school building could remain open is if it is in good condition.
The board agreed more discussion is needed about what to do in the wake of the bond defeat. Therefore, the board set a special meeting for 6:30 p.m. March 5 to talk about what to do next. The public is welcome to attend the meeting.