By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Almost 60 people went to a forum Wednesday night to hear what the next steps would be if voters in the Blue Sky and Kremlin-Gildford school districts approve consolidating the districts.
"I'm just here to state what I'm going to do if consolidation takes place and what I'm not going to do if it doesn't," said Hill County Superintendent of Schools Shirley Isbell, who held the forum.
If the June 22 election in both districts endorses consolidation, Isbell will appoint an interim board to implement it.
People in both districts have told her they would prefer having an equal number of trustees from each district, either two or three, Isbell said.
"The law does not allow me to do that," she said.
The population of the consolidated district requires her to appoint five interim elementary trustees who would also serve as high school trustees.
Isbell said she will be looking for people who want to work to implement the consolidation if it is approved. She said she will be working with the district superintendents and the existing boards to find qualified candidates, but added that people have to let her know they are interested before she will consider them.
"You write me a letter, you send me a postcard, you come to the office," she said, adding that time is starting to run out. The election is three weeks away, and her order to consolidate the district if it is approved must be issued within 10 days of the election.
All areas of the consolidated district must be represented, so one trustee each would come from the areas of Kremlin, Gildford, Hingham and Rudyard, she said. Isbell said she will be working with the current board members and superintendents to decide how to select the fifth trustee. One possibility, she said, is throwing the remaining candidates' names into a hat and randomly selecting one.
The Kremlin-Gildford district includes two outlying elementary districts - the Gildford Colony School and part of the Cottonwood district - but those districts have their own elementary boards and do not qualify to have voting members on the high school board, Isbell said. She said the districts could send a nonvoting member to the board.
State law uses the value of a tax mill in outlying districts to determine whether the districts qualify to have a voting member on the high school board. Isbell said that under the formula set by state law, the combined value of a mill in the outlying KG districts must be $1,344.10 to qualify them for a voting member. The combined value of a mill in those districts is $365.12.
Isbell said having a nonvoting member on the board could be valuable. That person, if properly selected, could be an objective member, providing valuable insight, looking at facts and possibly acting as a mediator, she said.
She said another option could be used to even the number of voting board members: The interim board could elect a chair who had no voting power, reducing the number of votes to four, she said.
"Again, that is not my decision to make. That's up to the board," she said.
Once the interim board is in place, it can decide to increase the number of elementary trustees, Isbell said. If the board elects to do that, seven elementary positions would be open in the next election instead of five.
The interim board would not be in power long, she added. At the next school election in 2005, voters would elect a permanent school board. The members of the board would then randomly select who had three-year terms, who had two-year terms and who had a one-year term. The nonvoting outlying elementary district trustee would have a three-year term.
Isbell said some people have told her they think the effective date of consolidation should be July 1 of this year and others say it should be July 1, 2005. Neither of those dates will work because of budgetary considerations. She suggested Jan. 1, 2005, instead. Isbell closed the forum with a look at the school budget the consolidated district would have. A law passed by the 2001 Legislature gives additional base funding to a consolidated district for three years, after which the extra funding is reduced by 25 percent a year until the new district has standard funding.
Isbell said the combined budgets of the two districts is $766,300. Consolidating the districts would add about 8.5 percent in the first year, she said, giving a consolidated budget of $831,147.
Isbell said people also don't need to worry about their taxes increasing because of consolidation. While the value of a mill would change, and the number of mills that would need to be levied to supply the same budget would change, that doesn't change the dollar amount of individual tax bills, she said.