Oconto Falls School board meets to clarify veterans monument vote

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Installation would be on school property

Warren Bluhm, wbluhm@newmedia-wi.com

A photo illustration shows the proposed veterans monument just south of Oconto Falls School District offices. (Times Herald file photo)

Members of the Oconto Falls School Board met Oct. 29 to make sure they were all on the same page regarding the potential construction of a veterans monument on school district property.

A week earlier, the board had voted to have Superintendent Dean Hess negotiate a memorandum of understanding with local veterans who propose building the monument on an approximately 100-by-100-foot space just south of the district office on North Farm Road. The land is currently green space.

Hess said he was contacted by some board members who wanted clarification of exactly what the decision had been, and one board member asked about the process for reconsidering the decision.

“There seemed to be some misunderstanding as to what that motion was for,” Hess said.

Board member Ken Harter said his intent in making the motion Oct. 22 was to tentatively approve the monument’s placement pending negotiation of a memorandum of understanding with the veterans groups on the responsibilities of the two sides.

The memo needs to spell out who would pay the costs of maintenance and insurance, said Ron Leja, school board president.

Leja also reiterated his concern over whether the public supports building the monument on school property as opposed to other sites. He repeated his earlier contention that he’d prefer to have district residents decide the issue.

“We have a non-recurring referendum that’s going to sunset in three years. We need to be on the right side of this (monument) issue; we can’t be wrong,” he said. “That’s why I firmly believe that something as a referendum, let the taxpayers decide if they want to take this on or not. Because we need them in three years, whether this is for or against, however it turns out.”

Harter said he doesn’t think the issue warrants the time and expense of a referendum.

The school district location, overlooking Woodlawn Cemetery, represents a change from the Central Avenue site that was planned in a fundraising campaign a few years ago. The veterans plan to use about $60,000 from that campaign and raise another $25,000 to $40,000.

There continues to be some opposition to the idea of moving the monument from the original site, but most of the veterans attending the Oct. 22 and Oct. 29 meetings expressed support for the new location.

“I accept the inevitable, but I still disagree,” Loretta Shellman, the most vocal opponent, told the board Oct. 29.

Board member Lisa Peitersen asked who was paying the attorney fees for drafting the memorandum of understanding.

“I don’t think the school district should be burdened with added expenses as we’re trying to develop a fiscal budget for next year,” Peitersen said. “I think that taking money away from kids is not our objective.”

Hess said he’s been using the district’s attorney and estimated between two and five hours of legal time has been used. Attorney fees could be one of the bullet points in the memo, he added.

Board members were asked if they wanted to place reconsideration of the issue on the agenda for their next meeting, but no one expressed an interest.

Hess apologized to the board for any misunderstanding about what the board’s decision had been.

“I should have made sure that we went back and clarified the language,” he said.

The memorandum of understanding is among the items on the agenda for the board’s regular monthly meeting, which is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday at the District Office, 200 N. Farm Road, Oconto Falls.

“The board may take action with regard to specific requirements for inclusion in the (memorandum of understanding),” the agenda reads.