Published On: Thu, May 1st, 2014

LCC consolidation gets approval

LINCOLN  — Two proposed Cedar County school consolidations were approved Tuesday morning with two unanimous votes from the State Committee for the Reorganization of School Districts.

Coleridge Community Schools and Laurel-Concord Public Schools will become one on Aug. 1, 2014, and Newcastle Public Schools and Hartington Public Schools will reform into one larger district on the same day.

The Newcastle-Hartington consolidation drew the most controversy at the meeting.

John Recknor, a Lincoln attorney who represented both consolidations, said because Newcastle was considering a merger with Hartington and Wynot, some parents responded by taking their students to nearby Ponca.

Soon after, Wynot dropped out of consolidation discussions. Since then, Newcastle’s enrollment has plunged.

“You have a logistics problem,” said Gerry Osborn, the board’s chairperson.

Depending on where students live in the district, some might find it more practical to send their students to Ponca instead of enrolling them in the merged district.

Next year, fifth grade through high school students will go to school in Hartington, and those younger than fifth grade will remain at Newcastle for at least a year.

Given that Ponca and Newcastle already began cooping some sports, some questioned why they didn’t choose to merge with that district.

Ryan James, a Newcastle welder, spoke out against the merger. He was one of the parents who took their students out of the Newcastle school and enrolled them at Ponca.

“It’s not a good fit for everyone,” James said.

Because his wife works in Ponca, it’s simply easier to have her take the students to school in that community. He also felt that the low number of students left his children with fewer resources.

Hartington superintendent Randall Anderson said renovations at Hartington will make the move easier. He said the staff and facilities are already in place and are ready for new students.

Discussion on the Laurel-Concord and Coleridge districts’ merger went off without a hitch.

“It’s the culmination of a number of years’ hard work and cooperation,” said Randy Klooz, superintendent of Laurel-Concord and Coleridge Schools.

He spoke in support of the move, explaining how the two districts had already begun acting like a consolidated district. Their website even uses the header “Laurel-Concord-Coleridge Schools.”

“People were very thoughtful and have worked on smoothing out all of the kinks,” Klooz told the board.

Head Administrator Craig Frerichs said it was “one last safety net,” to make sure Coleridge felt included. In addition to having a larger school board, Coleridge will keep a middle school — at least for now.

Under the merger, the new school district will remain in Class C-2 for the Nebraska School Activities Association.

“This is a very positive thing for both districts,” said Jay Hall, a member of the LCHS school board. Hall has two students in the school: a fifth grader at the middle school, and a first grader, and he said they wouldn’t even know the difference. “This is all they know. They like it. They enjoy it.”

No one spoke against the plans.

The board will meet again May 20 to discuss other possible consolidations, and to grant legislature-approved grant money for districts that merge.

With the merger, administrative staff at Laurel-Concord and Coleridge Schools said they were excited for the future.

“Stability is what we’re looking for,” Klooz said. “For our kids and our teachers.”