Storm Lake Schools Superintendent Dr. Paul Tedesco's feet have still not touched the ground, he says, following the voters' dramatic support in a bond issue election Tuesday that will bring a new communitywide elementary school to reality.
With a 60 percent supermajority "yes" vote needed to pass the issue, the voters spoke clearly - 810 of the 994 ballots cast (81.5 percent) were in support of the new school.
The issue was passed easily in every precinct, and in the absentee vote.
"The level of support was simply overwhelming," said Dr. Tedesco. "This shows a great partnership between the community and the staff as we provide the best quality education we can."
The new school will combine all the students now spread out into four aging building in one modern building, to be located adjacent to the middle school campus.
The mood in the schools on Wednesday was elated, although teachers were too busy in the final days before the Christmas break to do much celebrating. "We are very excited - all of us are looking forward to this," third grade teacher Sharon Butterfield said. "The best thing for us is that we will have a chance to all work together and share ideas and to collaborate on anything we can do better to help the children.
"It will mean all of our specialists will be under one roof. It will mean not having to meet with a child in a hallway or a nurse's office or whatever cubbyhole we can find, and that is great," she said.
The planning for a new facility has been in the works for several years. Previous and present district officials have researched, visited schools elsewhere, gathered input from teachers and the community. With Tuesday's vote, the long-awaited project jumps off the drawing board and onto the calendar - with hopes of completing the project for fall classes in 2008.
Dr. Tedesco was encouraged after last week's special election to extend the SILO (local option sales tax funding for schools) was passed overwhelmingly. With an annual $1 million expect to be awarded to the district from the sales tax, a big portion of the $15 million project will be funded. The bond issue adds $5.5 million. The tax takes effect as the middle school is paid off, so taxes are not expected to increase with the elementary project.
School board president Dr. Mark Schultz said, "I thank everyone for the efforts they made to get out and vote. This project didn't happen overnight. It was the result of a lot of hard work from past board members. Former Superintendent Kruse was an extremely important part of all this and Dr. Tedesco picked up where he left off (with Kruse's retirement) and really did a lot of things to make this new school a reality."
The school board feels a debt to the community for its confidence. "That the community has been so supportive of the decisions we made is gratifying. I am so excited," Schultz said. "To me the new school will provide these three things. One is the great potential for our kids. Two is that the quality education we strive for can go on, and three is that the city and surrounding areas will have a facility they can be proud of."
He pointed out that he has given "tours" of the community to physicians potentially interested in relocating to Storm Lake, and four separate, older elementaries had not been a selling point.
"Now it will be the opposite. We will have an attractive building," he said.
Dr. Tedesco said he went to the court house as polling was nearing its end Tuesday night, and the victory was evident. Calls were made to staff members to pass the good news on in a calling tree fashion. "The vote proved that when we all pull in the same direction there are good results," he said.
Now that the funding is in place for the building, the next step will be for school personnel and city personnel to meet with the architects once more for a final review of the site plans.
After cross-checking the plans and having them approved by the board again, specifications will be drawn up and put out for bids. It is hoped that a contractor will be in place by the end of March or early April.
The board must still determine what dto do with existing elementary buildings. It would like final decisions to be made by March. Some suggestions have been made, but Tedesco said the public is still welcome to call the administration building at 732-8060, or to attend any school board meeting with input.
Amid the excitement, there is much work still to be done, but the district leaders say the community is squarely focused on the goal - what is best for the children.
"We're all very proud of our faculty and administration," Schultz said.