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News from the week of June 2, 2004

Drought vanishes, fields drenched

By Brady Averill

Farmers face a soggy irony this week.

Three weeks ago, the Tracy area was desperate for rain. Now—in the wake of a three to five inch deluge this weekend, the ground is saturated and many fields are dotted with ponds.

Since May 16, five to eight inches of rain have fallen in Tracy.

The wet conditions are a mixed blessing. The drought-like conditions that have persisted since last July have ended. But excess moisture could stunt crop hopes, especially if warmer weather doesn't arrive soon.

“We needed the moisture, but now we're to the point that we need the sunshine,” said Leon Warner, manager at the John Deere dealership in Tracy.

“In a course of three weeks, we went from drought conditions to surplus moisture,” said Robert Byrnes, regional director for the University of Minnesota Extension service in Marshall.

Ben Ludeman, who farmers northwest of Tracy, said that cool, wet weather is causing crops to show signs of stress. Some flooded out patches will need to be replanted, he said.

“We needed the rain, but now we have too much,” agreed Dale Peterson, who farms south of Garvin.

When the rain first came earlier last month, Peterson said he couldn't have been happier. Conditions prior to mid-May were the driest he had seen in nearly all his years of farming, he said.

“When the rain did come, it was extremely timely,” said Byrnes.

Had the rain not come when it did, moisture-starved crops would have been hurting, Brynes said. Continued dry conditions late last year and early this year, had depleted sub-soil moisture, he said. A dry early spriing allowed farmers to get an early and uninterrupted start on spring planting. But by the time Peterson started planting his soybeans, the seed was going into dry soil.

“I just had the faith that we put the money and work in, and something would come,” Peterson said.

Drainage Problems surface

At 2 a.m. Sunday morning, the phone rang at Drs. Bill and Kathy Brockway's rural Tracy home.

The caller apologized for being the bearer of bad news: At that moment, storm water run-off was flooding the couple's Tracy veterinary clinic as thunderstorms rolled across the region.

The Brockways were not alone in their high-water woes after thunderstorms dumped three to five inches of rain late Saturday and early Sunday in the Tracy area. Reports were widespread early this week of Tracy and Lake Shetek area homeowners experiencing basement water during and after the weekend deluge.

City Administrator Audrey Koopman spent most of Tuesday dealing with water and drainage calls and issues. She said she could relate to the calls, since she was among the local homeowners who were "bailing out" wet basements early Sunday.

As often happens during a period of sudden, heavy water run-off, the city's storm sewer network was inundated with storm water. A sewer bypass valve on East Hollett street opened to allow sewage water to flow into the storm sewer, and eventually into an open ditch northeast of the city. Koopman estimated that "millions of gallons" of sanitary sewer water had been diverted through storm sewer bypass valve.

Storm water drainage—with special attention to drainage needs south of the railroad tracks—has been placed on the council's June 14 agenda.

Hats off to Class of '04

Spirits were high as the Class of 2004 bid farewell to Tracy Area High School Sunday.

Chilly temperatures, soggy grounds, and the threat of more rain nixed plans for an outdoor commencement ceremony at Tracy Area High School Sunday afternoon. But less than perfect weather didn't dampen the spirits of 66 students who participated in Sunday graduation ceremonies in the high school gym.

Plan outlined for new Milroy charter school application

Fall of 2005 is target date

By Val Scherbart Quist

The Milroy School's first charter school application has been denied. So what's next?

That question was answered last week at a public meeting held at the school. Another public meeting was held in February, at which community members voted to work toward opening a charter school in the district.

Milroy principal Dan Deitte first explained to the group the process that went into submitting the application and the reasons why the application had been denied. Around 18 to 20 people met for several weeks to prepare the application for the K-4 charter school, he said.

“Our goals were to bring in newness and programs we are unable to afford at this time.”

Innovative ideas included having students help with the upkeep of the building, character education, and promoting more parental and community involvement, in addition to strengthening many of the programs already in place.

“We thought we had a good application,” Deitte said. “We knew that there were challenges.”

Those challenges included a month-long time limit in which to submit their application, statutory operating debt status, and the fact that the district was doing something new by planning to house a charter school and the district grades within the same building.

“That's never been done before,” Deitte said. “We just looked at it as another challenge.”

All of those issues ended up having an effect on the outcome of the application. Department of Education officials were concerned over the school's statutory operating debt status and wanted to be sure the school will be able to get out of it, Deitte said. The school has filed a statutory operating debt plan with the state and plans to implement the plan at the beginning of the new fiscal year.

Another issue was the teacher vote to convert kindergarten through fourth grades to a charter school. All of the district's teachers voted, but the state later said that only four of the school's nine teachers were eligible to vote.

Deitte said the school plans to submit a brand-new charter school application Aug. 1, and that this application will not require a vote to convert. Conversion votes are only required for the second deadline, March 1.

Deitte said that despite the statutory operating debt plan being in place, there is plenty to be excited about in the Milroy district for the coming year. While some teaching cuts had to be made, all grades will be kept separate for language arts and math.

“We will have a regular school district for preschool through eighth grade. We have taken the appropriate actions and our statutory operating debt plan is in place,” Deitte said. “We feel very confident that we will have a great year next year.”

Under the Milroy school board's plan, the district should be out of statutory operating debt in 2006.

Keeping school open

Deitte said the district and the community have many important decisions to make about the future of their school.

“Everyone has the same goal—to keep the school in Milroy. How we do that is what we have to talk about next.”

He said the new application will have many of the same features of the first, yet will be revised to address the issues raised by the state.

“We have to make some changes, but we feel we have a good basis,” Deitte said. “That is what we're going to attempt by Aug. 1. We will get it done.”

Deitte said that the district will know the outcome of the second application by Oct. 1. The state may give the district some ideas and an opportunity to make improvements before approving or denying the application.

If the new charter school is approved, the district is eligible to receive up to $450,000 in start-up money. This money is not meant to pay salaries, but can be used for teacher training, new programs, and the purchase of equipment such as desks and computers.

“It's basically there to help your school start from scratch. You want to be wise how you spend it; you don't want to buy things you will have to support when the money is gone,” Deitte said

The charter school would also receive lease aid to rent its portion of the building. Charter schools are not allowed to own property.

The ultimate goal is that is that enrollment would increase because the charter school would attract new students from around the area by providing something that other schools are not, Deitte said.

Twelve classmates served, three didn't return alive

The sacrifices of American servicemen were illustrated in dramatic fashion at Tracy Memorial Day services Monday.

Twelve high school band members—mostly 17 and 18 years old—were asked to stand by keynote speaker John Feda. The dozen young people, Dr. Feda said, represented 12 young men in his high school trigonometry class at Alexandria High School. Shortly after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the boys discussed their future. All agreed they would help defend America by serving in the military.

Of the 12, three would be destined to die in the military service.

"You are Clarence Geske," Feda said, motioning for one of the young musicians to sit down. "You were shot by a sniper at the Battle of the Bulge. Your body is buried in a cemetery in Luxembourg."

The speaker motioned to the next band member to also be seated.

"You are Vernon Gulbranson," Feda said, who became a first Lieutenant in the infantry, and helped liberate the Philippines from Japanese occupation. "You were among the first wave of occupation troops to land in Japan. You lost your life in a barracks fire in Japan."

A third Tracy student was told to sit down.

"You are Bill Doughtery," Feda said. "You attended the Naval academy and became a carrier pilot, and flew in combat during the Korean War." Later, Feda continued, you were killed in a military plane crash in Georgia.

Yes, Feda reflected, there has been a terrible cost for preserving American liberties and values.

"We had a wake-up call at Pearl Harbor," Feda said. Many people of his generation responded to the challenge. All told, 51 of the 69 boys in his class served in the military. Four girls were also military volunteers. Most of these young people spent three to five years of their lives in the service.

State parks, End-O-Line plan Sunday open house

Lake Shetek State Park and the Currie End-O-Line Railroad Park will be holding their annual open house day on Sunday, June 6. On this day, visitors do not need vehicle permits (park stickers) to enter a Minnesota State Park.

Again this year, the Friends of Lake Shetek State Park Association, along with the Murray County Pork Producers, will hold a fund-raising luncheon on open house day. Members will be serving pork sandwiches and hot dogs. Viking Coca-Cola of Marshall is donating soft drinks, the Currie Bank will be donating plates and napkins, and Food Pride of Tracy is donating potato chips. All proceeds will be used for park improvements.

This year the cost of the luncheon is $5 per person, and will be held in the picnic area from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. or until the food runs out. Net proceeds will be earmarked for park projects. At last year's event, a free-will donation for the lunch raised $469.45.

Throughout the day, the Koch Cabin and interpretive center will be open. Visitors are also invited to enjoy other park facilities and features including the swimming beach, fishing ponds (recently stocked with Northern Pike), the gift shop (located in the park office), the Shetek Monument, Eastlick Marsh observation deck and spotting scope, and 14 miles of trails, including a six-mile paved bike trail.

The second annual meeting of the “Friends” Association will be held at 2 p.m. at the picnic area. Items on the agenda include election of directors and the adoption of some changes in the by-laws. The board of directors is made up of nine members with three to be elected each year for a three-year term.

At the meeting, updates will be given by president John Muller, treasurer Bob Klingle, and park manager Bruce Eliason. New assistant manager Elaine Feikema will be introduced and will be available to answer questions.

For more information on the park open house and meeting, call 763-3256.

End-O-Line Railroad Park in Currie will be serving refreshments from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. There will be no admission charge to visit the park that day.

All the facilities, including the Visitor's Center, will be open. The two locomotives will also be available for viewing.

For more information on End-O-Line, call Louise Gervais at 763-3708.