In the Spotlight

News & Features
In a small town, a school gets a boost
By Laurel Druley
Minnesota Public Radio
December 14, 2001

Last month 188 school districts had referendums on the ballot. Almost 80 percent of rural districts approved requests, but in the suburbs the number was much lower. Only 30 percent of suburban districts got more money from local taxpayers. As a result, some metro schools may have to close their doors. But not in Lyle. One of the state's smallest school districts - it has only one school - gets big support from local residents. Lyle voters recently passed the school referendum by an overwhelming margin. For decades Lyle has bucked the "close and consolidate" trend.

School board member Doug Young and Mayor Ron Frank
School board member Doug Young and Mayor Ron Frank sit at the counter of the only restaurant in town and a popular hang out, the Copper Kettle. Young says, without the school Lyle would become a ghost town.
(MPR Photo/Laurel Druley)

Lyle - population 566 - is just north of the Iowa border. It's tough to get lost in Lyle. There's one bank, one church, one restaurant and one school.

Lyle voters just passed a school referendum that will bring in almost $76,000 a year for the next 10 years. Broken down, that's about $200 more for the average tax bill. The money will pay for operating costs such as text books, bus fuel, heat and computers.

There are only 250 students at the kindergarten through 12th grade school. The class sizes are small; about 17 students on average.

Superintendent Jerry Reshetar recently gave a tour of the school. "You'll notice in the hallway, pictures of every graduating classes going back to the beginning of the school in 1915. It's surprising when people come to the school, how many look at those pictures and pick out relatives or friends. It's a great heritage," he says.

Sophomore Alex Schilling is a perfect example. He says his mom, a Lyle alumni, voted in favor of the referendum. "She graduated in 1980. She wanted more money for the school because she wants me to graduate from here," Schilling says.

Schilling's science teacher, Ann Dieterich, says a vote for the school is a vote for the town's viability. "There's a lot of support because they want to keep their school and maintain their identity; not just as a community, but as a community that cares about the kids," Dieterich says.

While Lyle hasn't consolidated with other districts, they do share sport teams with another school up the road.

Dieterich wears a sweatshirt that says she's a Lyle-Pacelli fan. The Lyle Lions share teams with the Pacelli Shamrocks, a parochial high school in Austin. School sporting events attract a large crowd in Lyle.

In his three years as superintendent, Reshetar says the community has been supportive of the changes he's suggested. Eventually he'd like to renovate the oldest wing of the school. High school classes are taught there even though the classrooms were built 85 years ago.

"This is the third floor of the old building. The classrooms are still very usable but in terms of some major systems plumbing and electrical systems, it isn't keeping pace with our needs," he says.

Reshetar says when he went to the school board to ask for more money for his operating budget, the members told him not to worry. Reshetar didn't even need to campaign. In a small town word gets out.

"That's one of the real assets, because you learn to depend on each other when you need assistance. You know who you can go to. It's often a very real asset. It is in any small town."

Neighbors often catch up with each other at the Copper Kettle restaurant. School board member Doug Young grabs a stool at the counter. He says the board was confident the referendum would pass.

"Without the school Lyle would become a ghost town. There would be nothing else to draw people here as much as the school does. So I think you would probably see Lyle disintegrate if you had the loss of a school," according to Young.

The school keeps drawing people back to Lyle. It's a small town surrounded by farmland; a place usually driven through on the way to Austin, a place where everyone smiles or waves when they pass on the street, a place where people support their school.