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Education is a bet that can pay off at the track

Tonight the Hudson School District makes the case the voters have already decided -- that the dog track would be a good place for a new high school.

We all know it didn't make a very good gambling venture -- timing is everything. And I've always believed that people in Wisconsin just don't like betting on their pets, whether they are horses or dogs.

What we do believe is a good bet is a top notch education for our kids. Turning the white elephant that is St. Croix Meadows into a school seems to give us pretty good odds at continuing that tradition in Hudson.

That said, the city of Hudson Plan Commission has to do its job -- namely decide if the track should be rezoned from commercial to a public use like a school, thereby taking it off the commercial property tax rolls. I totally get their concern and would even understand it better if anyone out there had shown the slightest interest in purchasing the property for another commercial use. But in the 10 years since the track closed there have been few inquiries and no serious offers that didn't involve more gambling.

I remember the well-organized opposition that marshaled their forces against turning the track into a casino. I can't help but wonder where those folks are now when there is a chance to put this property to a use that would so clearly benefit the community long-term and end the specter of gambling ever happening again at that site.

I have been covering the school district almost since I joined the Star-Observer 22 years ago. My children received their K12 education here and went onto to be successful in college, graduate and almost move out.

When we bought our house in 1989, our realtor and my dear brother-in-law, Dave Anderson, didn't hesitate when we asked about the schools in Hudson -- they were the best in the area, nothing to worry about there. From Dave and the numerous other real estate professionals I've gotten to know over the years, Hudson schools have helped to sell many a home in the area, along the way making this community one of the fastest growing in the state and one of the most prosperous.

And even since the recession hit the business community and housing values and sales dropped off, Hudson has continued to attract families to purchase homes here that are now more affordable. And I guarantee the quality of the schools has something to do with those moves. The enrollment numbers continue to increase even when districts across the river are seeing their numbers drop.

Over the years I have seen countless families come before the school board to ask for boundary exceptions so that their children could attend school here. And woe be the real estate agent who misspoke, telling a family their house was in the Hudson School District and it turned out not to be.

I've had a firsthand look at the process the school district administration and the school board have been through to get to this point -- first monitoring increasing enrollment, studying projections by experts (most of which have been realized), making use of every nook and cranny at the overcrowded middle and high schools and finally, after evaluating every other possible piece of land big enough, making and taking the case for the dog track to the voters.

I have always believed that the school tax money I pay is the most efficiently used of all taxes I pay. I can walk into any school in this district and see my dollars at work from manageable class sizes to clean and well maintained buildings to well-educated and experienced teachers.

As a resident and voter in the district, I supported the referendum. There is no question in my mind that it would make a wonderful secondary school and a good investment of my tax dollars now and for years to come.

I have sat through the countless board meetings over the past several years about the need for secondary space, where the unsuitability of the property on County UU and other sites have been vetted and a whole host of concerns about the dog track property have been discussed not to mention what to do for room in the meantime. Those in the community who say the school district hasn't done its homework on this issue are just wrong or they haven't been paying attention.

But I know there are some people who will never be convinced that there isn't some grand conspiracy afoot. I'm not talking to those people. The one thing I can assure the rest of you of is that the plan to put a school on the dog track property has been researched and well thought out by our elected school board and put forward because it represents the best plan to continue top quality education in this community.

But then, the majority of you already know that as your vote on the referendum proved. I'm hoping the city of Hudson sides with its voters and takes the first step to make a place that at one time divided this community down the middle into something we can all be proud to claim.

Meg Heaton

Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

(715) 808-8604