By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
The Kremlin-Gildford school board will hold an election May 25 on whether KG should consolidate with the Blue Sky school district.
The Blue Sky board already had voted to hold an election but has not yet set a date. The result of the vote by residents of each district will be binding if the majority in each district supports consolidation.
The KG board reached agreement Tuesday night after holding a 1-hour working session with its advisory council. About 55 people, including about 15 students, attended the session.
Proponents of consolidation said declining enrollments and the budget cuts it causes will force both districts to reduce their offerings in classes as well as sports and social activities, and consolidation would, at least, delay that. Others cited many unknowns, including whether out-of-district students would travel the extra 12 miles to Rudyard to go to school in the new district if that is where the high school is located.
Members of the audience and the advisory council said there is enough interest in consolidation to hold an election.
"I definitely think it needs to come to a vote," said Maria Borlaug, a member of the advisory council.
Dave Stevenson, chair of the KG board, said the board will work to implement whatever the voters decide.
"If it passes, we'll support it 100 percent," he said. "If not, I hope we get 100 percent support to look at alternatives."
Montana law requires each district considering consolidation to hold an election before it can proceed. If any district votes against the consolidation, it fails.
Ron Kapperud, a member of the advisory council, told the school board he has been talking to people on both sides of the issue in the last few months.
"It's mixed across the board," he said.
A major topic at the meeting was where the high school would be located if the districts consolidate.
The two districts hired consultants more than a year ago to study which school in the two districts would be best to house kindergarten through sixth grade, and which would be best to house seventh through 12th grade.
In January 2003 the consultants said the Blue Sky school would be best to house grades seven through 12, and the Gildford school should house kindergarten through sixth.
The following month, the KG board voted to end the consolidation talks with Blue Sky.
Parents in the district organized a meeting last month to talk about consolidation, and later the same week the KG advisory council recommended reopening talks with Blue Sky. At a Blue Sky board meeting April 1, attended by the KG board and superintendent, Blue Sky decided to hold an election, and said it supported the consultants' recommendation.
Tuesday night, KG advisory council member David Miller pointed out that the Blue Sky board did not specify locations for the schools in its call for an election.
KG Superintendent John Ballard said the existing boards can't do more than recommend what should take place in the consolidation. An interim board representing both districts would be appointed by the county superintendent of schools, and that board would make all decisions for the new district, including where schools would be located, he said.
Several people on both sides of the issue talked about the possible loss of out-of-district students. The extra 12 miles to travel to Rudyard might deter parents from sending their kids from Havre, they said.
About 26 students go to KG schools from outside of the district.
Ballard said he has called the parents of every out-of-district student, and 73 percent said they would continue to send their children to the school if it moved to Rudyard.
Ballard said one advantage of consolidation is that the state would have to provide base funding for both districts for three years after consolidation. The state provides about $20,000 to each elementary school district and more than $200,000 to each high school district. If KG and Blue Sky consolidate into one district, it would continue to receive funding at those levels for three years, as well as separate, standard state funding on a per-student basis, he said. After three years, one of the former district's base funding would be phased out.
Ballard asked the student body presidents of the two high schools, who attended the meeting, about students' thoughts about consolidation.
"They think consolidation should happen," said KG president Darby Donoven.
Donoven said he did a survey of the students, and found they generally support consolidation because it would provide benefits like more opportunities in sports, bigger classes and better class selection.
Roald Aageson, president at Blue Sky, said most students there have the same attitude.
Aageson said the location of the school doesn't seem to be a major issue for the students.
"The more important issue for us is that it gets done and it gets done soon," he said.