By Tim Leeds
A plan to further consolidate some Hi-Line schools, begun more than year ago, has been put on hold.
The Kremlin Gildford School Board voted unanimously Tuesday to end, for now, its discussion of consolidating with the Blue Sky district, which serves Hingham and Rudyard.
"We just didn't feel it would be in the best interests of our students to go forward with it," board member Mitzi Dees said today.
KG Superintendent John Ballard said that once the two school districts started looking at possible actions based on information provided by consultants hired to study consolidation, he and the KG board decided the disadvantages outweighed the advantages.
"I couldn't see where the benefits for the students would outweigh the impact on the communities," he said.
The main disadvantage was the economic impact of cutting staff, he said.
Surveys conducted last year showed that residents of both communities favored consolidation, with numbers ranging as high as 75 percent in favor in the KG district.
David Miller, a Gildford parent, said today he thinks that support has dropped since a Jan. 13 meeting where the consultants presented their recommendations.
"I would say that things have changed to sway the opinion the other way," he said.
Blue Sky Superintendent Terry Grant said he would have preferred to let the voters make the decision.
"Personally, I would like to see things going beyond (this), put the facts out to the community and let them decide," Grant said. "From what I'm seeing, there would be a lot of benefits to it, as well as some drawbacks."
The two districts hired consultants Rich Shaffer and Harry Erickson of Bozeman to study the proposition. The consultants presented their findings to more than 100 people at a meeting Jan. 13.
The consultants recommended that a school for grades 7-12 be placed in Rudyard, with a K-6 school located in Gildford.
The two school boards had agreed in October to let voters decide whether to follow the consultants' recommendation. The KG school board is sending a letter to people in the district explaining its reasons, Dees said.
Ballard said the reasons were both social and economic.
The loss of teachers in the communities and the economic effect of the loss of their salaries were a major consideration, he said.
Miller, who has closely watched the process, said he supports the concept of consolidation, and he is still encouraging the boards to keep the talks open and work to create a proposal to satisfy people in both districts.
Talking to KG board members has given him the feeling that hasn't been happening, Miller said.
"I think that there hasn't been a lot of give and take between the two schools," he said.
Actions by the Legislature could change the scenario for consolidation, Grant said.
Discussions in the Legislature about making countywide school districts and requiring smaller communities to bus their children to larger schools could eliminate small Hi-Line schools entirely, he said.
He said actions like consolidation might head off legislative requirements that would eliminate the schools entirely.
Grant said he hopes to keep working with KG to see if a suitable consolidation proposal can be done.
"We all have the same desire in mind. That's to provide the best education we can for the students," Grant said. "We have to work together on this and keep an open mind, and not start getting negative on what's going on here."