Let RTR voters cast their ballots

A lawsuit was filed on Jan. 17 in Lyon County District Court against the Russell-Tyler-Ruthton School District. It seeks a temporary restraining order on the Feb. 12 bond referendum election.

It was filed by a group of area residents, two of whom are former school board members.

The complaint alleges the upcoming referendum question goes against RTR’s consolidation plan, which was approved when the three districts consolidated.

According to the lawsuit, the referendum question asks if RTR should close or demolish some or all of its existing buildings, and issue up to $35 million in building bonds to build a new pre-K to 12th grade school in Tyler. The filing said the consolidation plan stipulated a school building could only be closed if average daily membership at RTR fell below 450-470 students. The group filing the lawsuit is seeking a judge’s ruling that the consolidation plan is a binding contract for the RTR school district and that plan can’t be changed without informing the public. The complaint also seeks for a temporary restraining order against the referendum in its current form.

On Monday, RTR Superintendent Dave Marlette argued against that claim saying voters of the district approved the consolidation document and they can also change it.

“There’s not a document in the world that can’t be changed by the voters,” he said. “The Constitution has been changed 27 times.”

Marlette started the process on putting the school district on the path to putting a referendum on the ballot back in June. Back then, he told a small crowd inside the Russell School gymnasium that it was time for the district to “pull together.” The same plea was made in similar listening sessions in Tyler and Ruthton.

At the same time, a survey questionnaire was being circulated among residents and parents of the district to fill out. This was not a scientific poll. But it’s still a pretty good tool for the district to gauge how residents may feel about their school facilities. The district called it the “pulse” of the community.

One question asked: Do you initially support the need to improve our RTR facilities? Five-hundred-fifty-six (nearly 90 percent) checked “favor.”

A second question: Do you initially support the need to remodel existing facilities, build new facilities, or do a combination of remodel and/or building new facilities? Remodel received 10 percent, build new received 55 percent and combination of both received 31 percent.

Another question: Do you initially support a facility bond, which would raise property taxes, to improve the RTR facilities? More than 70 percent checked favor.

The process continued to evolve with the formation of a facilities task force committee made up of farmers, business people and people of various ages. More informational meetings occurred and building tours scheduled. Eventually, a recommendation was presented to the school board. The plan called for a two-story facility to be built in Tyler. By the end of November, the board voted 6-1 to place a referendum on the ballot for a $35 million bond referendum and an election was set for Feb. 12.

Like most school facilities bond elections, there is opposition. And they have legitimate concerns. Farmers and large property owners will experience significant tax increases if the referendum passes.

Some opposition is directed toward the amount of gymnasium space some consider too elaborate.

And of course, you can throw in the historical concept that the present school district is a consolidation involving what was once three separate districts.

While the concerns raised among all stakeholders in the three communities are legitimate, the current voters in the district should be given the opportunity to decide what’s good for their students now in the school system.

The election is just a little over two weeks away and absentee ballots are already being collected. Let the voters decide. If voters say no to the new facility, then there is no reason for a lawsuit.

If approved, the anti-school bond group can then take their fight to the courts.

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