Published On: Thu, May 8th, 2014

Five school merger talks draw large crowd

BLOOMFIELD — Wednesday was question and answer time here concerning a feasibility study between three Knox County and two Pierce County school districts.

Close to 90 people showed up to hear more about what is going on with a study that had been done on the feasibility of having the Wausa, Bloomfield, Creighton, Osmond and Plainview school districts work together or merge.

Wausa-Bloomfield Supt. Bob Marks assured the group that “no decisions have been made.”

“We are not trying to do anything secretive or pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. We want the communities to be involved. It is not the school’s intent or anyone’s intent to make this into something negative. This is only a positive. Our top priority is the students,” Marks said. “This is not a project to disband any school. This is still a long way from answering any questions on school locations or staff.”

Marks gave a brief description of the history behind the study that was done for the schools.

Back in December 2006 a multi-school study for Bloomfield, Niobrara and Wausa was looked at.

“At that time the schools did not see a need to do anything or go any further,” Marks said.

In October of 2013 a second multi-school study started with Creighton and Plainview and then Wausa and Bloomfield joined. Osmond School was the last to get involved.

School superintendents then started having meetings with Jerry Ehlers, a consultant from Ainsworth.

Sixty-four different scenarios have been developed between the five schools – of those only four scenarios involve all five schools.

“A lot of information was collected which boiled down to 64 different scenarios. We are able to look at what the schools would collectively have to offer,” Marks said. “Our focus is on two of the four scenarios that involve all five schools working together in some capacity.”

Scenarios include building a new 7-12 building or building a new 9-12 building with junior high facilities to be located at two or more of the existing high school settings.

The elementary school would remain in each community in either a pre-k to sixth grade or a pre-k to fourth grade.

In January, Ehlers presented the data at a meeting where board members from all five schools were present.

An agreement was made after the initial five-school board meeting to form a committee which would include three representatives from each school, Marks said.

Discussions are now underway for Northeast Community College to be involved in the consolidation efforts as well.

“Four superintendents from the five schools have met with staff members and curriculum specialists at Northeast Community College. Curriculum is a top priority. We discussed how Northeast Community College would be involved,” Marks said. “Northeast is excited – to say the least.  This could be a model for other schools to follow.”

A group of teachers and principals will meet with representatives at NECC this summer to start the curriculum review and alignment process.

“Collectively, everyone has something to offer. Individually we are lacking in what we have to offer,” Marks said. “At some point each board will have to agree to move ahead with a study which will include some cost for each school.”

This project is not about disbanding five communities and their schools – it is about building economic stability within each community, Marks said.

“We want to bring young people back to our communities by providing educational opportunities that may not exist now or have the opportunity to develop in our current settings,” Marks said. “We want to provide an atmosphere that will encourage students to stay in the communities.”

The combined assessed valuation with all five school districts united would have a total greater than $2 billion. The possibilities are enormous and the rewards could be numerous for all involved.

“It is hard to fathom. This would be one of the wealthiest larger Class B schools in the state with a small town atmosphere,” Marks said. “What we are doing is big news and it will make the front page of newspapers. It is exciting. Laurel and Coleridge consolidation and Hartington and Newcastle just made the news.”

Bloomfield School board members offered a few comments before the group was dismissed from the school gym.

Brian Eisenhauer said he was trying to keep an open mind on the project.

“I can see the opportunities and the drawbacks,” Eisenhauer said. “We want to know what you want to do. Come and see us anytime.”

Jason Hefner has changed his view on the merger over the last several years.

“Five years ago I would have said ‘absolutely not,’ but the opportunities the schools can offer as a unit will be a big benefit,” Hefner said. “If you look at the communities in our county – we have a lot to offer.”

Keith Koertje is unsure what will happen but he believes the merger would be good for the kids in the long run.

“It will offer so many opportunities for the kids to be able to do better,” Koertje said. “It is hard to tell what the economic impact will be. Who knows – maybe some of the schools will drop out.”

Kristi Hauger and Christy Mackeprang like the idea of the students having more choices on curriculum and being able to earn college credits while in high school.

“Kids attending other schools that offer several duel subjects for college credits have a jump start. I don’t believe one school can do this but as a group we can,” Mackeprang said.

Mackeprang said she was excited about working with the other school districts.

“Not having to pay for some of the kids’ college credits would be great,” she said.

Mackeprang asked people to look forward and do some soul searching concerning having the schools work together.

“This is what we are doing,” Mackeprang said.

Chris Johnson has a concern with the diminishing enrollment numbers and urged people to have an open mind.

“The students need to have the competition in the classrooms. Sports will be okay – it will all work out,” Johnson said.

The floor was then opened up for questions.

One of the main questions concerned whether the public would have a say in the future of the proposal and if a vote would be taken.

“That will be determined later. There are three ways to do this. We have to concentrate on the students right now and then move ahead,” Supt. Marks said.

Breaking it Down

Enrollment numbers below are for the five area school districts considering working together and could end up in a large mega-district. The projected enrollment numbers are from a consultant’s study. The figures are based on a 10-year history and projected forward to 2014.

BLOOMFIELD

2010 pop. 1,028

2014 K-12 enrollment 238

2024 (projected) 118

CREIGHTON

2010 pop. 1,154

2014 K-12 enrollment 318

2024 (projected) 198

OSMOND

2010 pop. 783

2014 K-12 enrollment 210

2024 (projected) 130

PLAINVIEW

2010 pop. 1,238

2014 K-12 enrollment 299

2024 (projected) 201

WAUSA

2010 pop. 643

2014 K-12 enrollment 216

2024 (projected) 174

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