Published On: Thu, Feb 28th, 2013

Local boards hear public questions on consolidation

COLERIDGE — Patrons in the Coleridge and Laurel-Concord School Districts had more questions than comments during the Community District Reorganization Planning Meetings held here Monday evening.

A large group gathered in the gym at the Coleridge location at 6 p.m. Two hours later, approximately 40 individuals showed up for the Community Planning Meeting at the Laurel location.

Coleridge and Laurel-Concord School Board members and the administrative staff from the schools, along with attorney John Recknor, who is providing legal counsel for the process, gathered at a long table in front of the community members at both locations.

Administrators and board members have been taking a close look at consolidation for the two school districts which have been involved in inter-local agreements for sharing for over 10 years.

“The structure is working and the two boards are getting along,” Supt. Randy Klooz said. “We want the public’s opinion on how we should proceed.”

Recknor introduced himself and said he had worked with each of the schools in the past and had been impressed with their concern in being able to provide a good education for their students and with the pride that was evident in each community.

“You are not just rushing into something. The two schools have already been working together — this process has been a long time in the making,” Recknor said. “Input from the community is needed before a plan is put together.”

According to Recknor, he has provided legal advice and helped with several other school consolidations in Nebraska through the years.

“I have seen school districts try to merge together and it was an absolute train wreck. I do not believe that will happen here. These two school districts have already been working together,” Recknor said.

Recknor stressed how important it is to use input from the communities before making any decisions on consolidation and then continue using community input if the decision is made to merge the two districts into one.

Recknor’s recommendation also included using the petition method if the decision is made to consolidate the two schools.

Coleridge and Laurel-Concord board members would approve a final plan and then use the petition method to put consolidation in place.

Calling a special election and putting the decision before the voters was not an option that Recknor would recommend.

“It can pit the people in one district against the people in the other district. The smaller school district can feel like it is being bullied into doing something by the bigger school district that has a larger number of voters,” Recknor said.

It was also brought up that coming up with a brand new name for the school isn’t always a good idea.

It is best to keep the identities of the two schools in place. There is usually a “community or town pride” already in place.

If the school goes to state in an activity or sport event everyone will still knows the towns that are involved.

Recknor brought up towns that have consolidated and come up with a whole new name and pointed out that most people have no idea which towns are involved in the consolidation. Keeping the current name of Laurel-Concord-Coleridge gives each school the opportunity to keep their own identity, while forming a new district as one.

By statute a class three school district is required to have either a six or a nine person board. The six board members from Laurel-Concord and the six Coleridge board members cannot be joined into a 12 member school board. The plan introduced by Klooz is to eventually merge into a nine member board.

“You need to have some trust with one another or you really shouldn’t be doing this,” Recknor said. “Board members and patrons all need to be able trust one another.”

Individuals at both meetings had the opportunity to ask questions by writing them on note cards that were handed out and collected. Recknor then used the cards to answer questions, or allow the boards and administration to answer.

 

COLERIDGE QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS INCLUDED:

 

WILL THERE BE ANY GUARANTEE THAT A FACILITY WILL BE KEPT AT THE COLERIDGE LOCATION?

Recknor: A guarantee would not be a good idea as no one knows what will happen down the road as far as enrollment numbers or finances. The school would not want to tie itself to something that could create a bad financial situation down the road. This should be looked at somewhat like a business venture.

Klooz: Enrollment in the Middle School has stayed steady and the structure is good. It has been working now so it will probably continue to work in the future but we would always have to look at the finance part of it. I have heard a lot of good comments about the Middle School from people in both Laurel and Coleridge. There are no immediate plans to change.

 

IF A MIDDLE SCHOOL IN COLERIDGE IS NOT KEPT IN PLACE, IS THERE ROOM AT THE LAUREL LOCATION FOR ALL OF THE STUDENTS?

Klooz: Yes, there would be room but there would not be enough space to keep the “middle school concept” in place. There are benefits to the students in having a middle school.

 

WHO WILL OWN THE PROPERTY IN EACH DISTRICT IF THE SCHOOLS CONSOLIDATE?

Recknor: The reorganized school district owns the property.

Pick up this week’s issue of the Coleridge Blade to read more!

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