By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
GILDFORD - About 40 residents of the Kremlin-Gildford and Blue Sky school districts decided Monday night to reopen a dialogue about consolidation of the two districts.
Chelise Sterner of Gildford, an organizer of the meeting, said she will ask the two school boards to create a citizens advisory board to look at consolidation and may also take that request to the Joplin-Inverness board. She also said a petition to see if residents want consolidation to go to a vote may be in order.
"It may come down to that. Then again, it may not," she said.
Area residents held the meeting at KG High School in Gildford to give people an opportunity to speak for or against consolidation.
Mary Kay Rambo of Gildford said consolidation would be better than losing all of the smaller Hi-Line schools.
"I would rather see something on the Hi-Line than nothing," she said.
Mel Gomke of Kremlin said the KG district should take smaller steps before consolidating with another district. He said it would be better to start by closing the Kremlin elementary school and moving all grades to the Gildford school.
"You don't go from the bottom of a ladder to the top in one step," he said.
Gomke said he thinks the Blue Sky district is looking to swallow up KG.
"You guys want our tax dollars supporting your school system," he said.
The KG and Blue Sky school boards discussed consolidation last year. After a team of consultants recommended putting grades seven through 12 at Blue Sky School in Rudyard and putting kindergarten through sixth grade at the KG High School building in Gildford, the KG School Board voted not to continue the discussion.
Registered voters in the districts considering consolidation must approve it before it can proceed. The school boards can request the vote, or 20 percent of registered voters in a district can sign a petition to force an election.
Blue Sky and J-I said in February that they were joining their track teams and discussing further sports consolidation. Blue Sky school board member Mike Lipp said at Monday's meeting that consolidating the schools has not been discussed.
No KG board members attended the meeting, nor did either district's superintendent. Sterner said the superintendents and boards were invited to the meeting.
Curt Rambo of Gildford said he wanted members of the board to attend to find out why the board dropped consolidation talks without going to a vote in the district.
"It's pretty disappointing. We've got three board members and they're not even here. We can't ask them why," Rambo said.
John Ballard, superintendent of the KG district, said he decided not to attend for two reasons. One was that he didn't think he had enough time to prepare to answer questions, since he was invited to the meeting late last week, he said.
The other is that the district has formed an advisory committee to look at different options for the district. The public is welcome to attend those meetings, he added.
"We're trying to look at all options and see what our best options are," Ballard said.
The next meeting of the advisory board is Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at the Gildford high school cafeteria.
He said having members of the board attend adds another wrinkle. Since two members of the board constitute a quorum, having two or three attend would require following laws governing a formal public meeting of the board or the meeting would be illegal, he said.
During the meeting, Lipp said the loss of the school in Hingham didn't destroy the town. In fact, the school now houses businesses.
"As far as the town dying, there's more businesses open now than there was in '84, '85. It didn't just die," he said.
He also said declining enrollment will force budget reductions.
"Programs are going to be cut pretty soon. Programs are going to go and I don't know what will go first," he said.
One question raised was whether most or all of the teachers at the high school in Gildford would lose their jobs if the high school were moved to Rudyard.
Chelise Sterner said an interim board would be set up with members from both districts and that board would make the decisions.
Montana law states that teachers and staff members in consolidating districts must be given preference according to tenure, experience and qualifications.
Shawn Rettig of Rudyard said the most important question is whether the children in the schools think consolidation is a good idea.
"This is all about the kids, my daughter, my son, about their education, about their athletic opportunities," he said.
Rob Spicher of Hingham said he was a junior when the Rudyard and Hingham schools consolidated. It wasn't a problem for the students then, he said. The consolidation allowed more opportunities, including sports opportunities.
"In my opinion it wasn't a big deal to lose the school," he said.