By T.J. Pyette
Two Hi-Line schools considering consolidation will hear suggestions on how best to complete the merger at a community meeting on Jan. 13.
The meeting will be facilitated by two consultants, Rich Schaffer and Harry Erickson of Bozeman, to address final concerns regarding consolidation of Kremlin-Gildford Schools and Blue Sky Schools, which serves the Hingham and Rudyard areas.
Schaffer and Erickson were hired by the two school districts last summer to provide insight into the consolidation process. They spent a considerable amount of time in both districts in October, Blue Sky School Superintendent Terry Grant said.
Initially, Chester and Joplin-Inverness school districts were involved in the consolidation talks as well, but opted out early in the process.
The upcoming meeting, which had been tentatively set for Tuesday in Hingham, has been moved to the Gildford High School gymnasium because the facility is better able to accommodate a large number of people, Grant said today.
"We originally wanted the meeting to be centrally located between KG and Blue Sky, but there really wasn't an appropriate building in Hingham," Grant said.
KG Superintendent John Ballard said he thinks the meeting will be both interesting and beneficial. "It will provide us with some direction," he added.
The consultants will meet with both school boards prior to the meeting and take final tours of the schools, said Grant. This will give board members a chance to ask questions and the consultants the opportunity to take a conclusive look at the current district arrangements.
The community meeting will begin at 7 p.m. and the consultants plan to take comments from the public for about 45 minutes, Grant said, giving community members the chance to lay all their cards on the table.
"(The consultants) have already interviewed students, teachers and community members, but this will give people the opportunity to voice any last-minute concerns or thoughts, or to show support for the consolidation," he added.
The consultants have not yet revealed any of their findings. "They are being real tight-lipped," Grant said.
He said he thinks the consultants are reserving their suggestions until the community members have their final say.
After considering the comments made in the first portion of the meeting, Schaffer and Erickson plan to present their recommendations at 8 p.m.
The big question that will be answered, Grant said, is where the junior high/high school will be located and which town will house the elementary school. Initial planning projected each district would retain one or the other.
Ballard said the location of the schools will have a large impact on the towns because they will either gain or lose extracurricular and sports activities, depending on where the combined high school is located.
"Nobody likes the idea of one of the communities losing a high school," Grant said, "but the outcome of most conversations is that the consolidation will ultimately better serve the needs of our students."
Grant said Blue Sky has experienced a decline in enrollment, which has left it scrambling to produce an adequate lineup of class offerings.
"With the consolidation, we hope to expand our current offerings and offer more sections of certain classes, which will greatly benefit our students and give them greater flexibility in schedling," Grant said.
Ballard added that parents of elementary students seem to be more favorably inclined toward consolidation since enrollment numbers have dropped to one or two students in some classes.
"In consolidating, we would be able to increase class sizes in the elementary grades," Ballard said.
After the recommendations have been made, Grant and Ballard said, the school boards have agreed to carry the issue, with all the recommendations of the consultants, to the voters. A community vote will be held to determine if the consolidation plans will move forward. The vote has not yet been scheduled.
If voters approve the consolidation, the schools will continue separately for the 2003-2004 school year, and will link up for 2004-2005. Grant said the current school boards would continue to govern their respective districts for one more year, while an interim board, devised of members from both current boards, would be appointed and would begin to oversee the details of the consolidation.
Once the integration is complete, an election would be held and board members for the newly consolidated district elected.
Grant said he hopes community members will take the opportunity to attend the meeting and voice their opinions.
"This is a chance to be heard before the recommendations are finalized," Grant added.