By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
GILDFORD - The interim school board set up to consolidate Blue Sky and Kremlin-Gildford school districts decided Monday to vote in January over which town would house the high school.
While the discussion of that topic went smoothly, with people speaking about strengths and weaknesses of both schools, another topic raised some heated discussion - how the school's name and its mascot should be selected.
Voters in both the KG and Blue Sky districts in June approved consolidating the two districts due to declining enrollments and shrinking budgets.
The newly-created interim board in charge of consolidating the districts turned the decision about naming the school and selecting the mascot over to the students of the two school districts pending board approval.
Blue Sky student body president Conrad Wendland reported during Monday's meeting that the two student bodies would vote this week on the student councils' nominations.
Together they nominated Hi-Line, North Star, Central Hi-Line, and the Northern Plains for the school name. The mascot nominations were the Hawks, the Knights, the Ducks and the Spartans.
The school colors nominated by the Blue Sky council are Columbia blue and black. The colors nominated by the KG council are royal blue and black.
Jaye Dee Han of Rudyard said during the public comment portion of the meeting that she thought parents and community members should suggest possible alternate names and mascots.
Han said that while the decision should be up to the students, it's their parents and the community members who, five or ten years down the road, might have to sit in a gymnasium and listen to an announcer call the consolidated school's team "The Ducks."
That raised about five minutes of heated discussion, with audience members talking amongst themselves and addressing the board. Several audience members said the decision should be by the students, as it was when Hingham and Rudyard consolidated in the 1980s and the students selected the Blue Sky Eagles.
"I think we should leave it up to the kids," said board member Lyle Petersen, who also chairs the Blue Sky board.
Han said in an interview that she wants the students to make the selection, but thinks adults in the community may have some good alternatives they could select from.
Although the board decided to hold off voting on which town would house the high school, board and audience members made several comments on the topic.
Blue Sky board member Terry Hybner, who is on the curriculum subcommittee created by the consolidated interim board, said whatever is decided, the teachers need to know as soon as possible.
"If you could set the basic framework they're ready to begin planning," Hybner said.
Wolery said he had hoped to vote on the location and grade configuration of the schools by Monday, but recognized that many questions still need to be discussed further. One such question is funding.
KG superintendent John Ballard presented an estimated amount of money the consolidated district would have next year, about $1.76 million. The new district has the base funding from both previous districts for three years, with one set subsequently phased out. It has five years to adjust its budget to match enrollment, should enrollment continue to drop.
"The only caution I would give is I don't believe this will be the funding formula come April 15," Ballard added.
The state Supreme Court is considering an appeal of a judge's decision that said the state funding formula does not meet the state's constitutional obligation to provide a quality education. If the Supreme Court upholds the decision, the 2005 Legislature will have to change the state education funding formula.
Wolery said he hopes the district will be able to make the remaining decisions early next year, adding that the board's goal is to retain as many teachers as possible. It may not be able to retain all teachers, he said.
Several people in the audience who had toured the two schools made comments on the merits of Blue Sky High School versus KG High School holding the upper grades, with many saying both schools offer advantages and problems.
Sara Snell, a senior at Blue Sky High School, said Blue Sky has a more advanced science lab and a larger band room, while KG High School has a better shop that allows more than one student to practice welding at a time. Blue Sky only has facilities for one person to weld at a time, she said.
Mel Gomke of Kremlin raised concerns about the basement on the west end of Blue Sky, known as "The Pit." It has small windows high on the walls and narrow hallways, which could be a problem if a fire broke out, Gomke said.
"I would hate to see someone hurt in a fire. It's horrible," he said.
Several people said the area could be used as storage if space allows it. Audience members added that the area has passed fire inspections.
JoHanna Kapperud, an interim board member and member of the KG board, said she had talked to parents of out-of-district students who attend KG. Some told her that as long as the district retains the teachers it now has, they would continue to send their students to whichever town holds the high school, she said.
Others told her that if the high school was in Rudyard, it would be too far to bus their children, Kapperud said.
The board and audience members also discussed how to split the grades between schools, whether it would be better to group kindergarten through eighth grade at one school and ninth through 12th grade at the other, or to keep kindergarten through sixth grade at one building and group seventh and eighth grade with the high school.
KG Superintendent John Ballard said some studies have shown that it is better to group seventh and eighth grade with the lower grades.
Interim board member Mike Lipp, also a member of the Blue Sky board, said he thinks it would be better to keep the upper grades together so that high school teachers would not have to travel to teach classes to the middle school students. Blue Sky could hold that combination of grades better, he added.
Jan Donoven, who teaches at KG schools, said she thinks it may be better to keep the seventh- and eighth-graders with the lower grades. The teachers could have more time if they needed to travel, since the district will have more teachers, she said.
In other action, the board approved retaining Montana School Board Association attorney Debra Silk, with a commitment of $2,500 from each district, to work on developing the consolidated district's policies. Wolery said Silk will consolidate, simplify and update the two districts' existing policies into a set of policies for the new district.
The board also approved retaining Silk, at a $110-an-hour fee, to counsel the board on legal issues during the consolidation.
The board approved giving job applications to Ballard and Blue Sky Superintendent Terry Grant for the superintendent job in the new district. The board hopes to interview the two candidates in December and select the new superintendent in January.
"That will be a busy meeting," Wolery said.