By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
After nearly two years of often heated discussion, the voters of the Blue Sky and Kremlin-Gildford school districts on Tuesday approved consolidation.
The vote in the Blue Sky K-12 district was overwhelmingly in favor of joining the two Hi-Line districts - 216-10, according to unofficial results. The turnout was 55 percent voter turnout. The KG vote was less decisive. Two votes were held, one in the high school district and one in the separate elementary district.
The vote in the high school district was 123-100, and the count in the elementary school district was 112-95. KG had 66 percent voter turnout.
Gildford parent Lori Federspiel said today she was relieved the measure passed.
"Everything I can see, going together with them is going to be a positive," she said.
Mary Lou Miller, also of Gildford, said she would have preferred that the districts remain separate.
"It went through. I guess that has to be," she said.
Joe Lamson, spokesman for the state Office of Public Instruction, said OPI is pleased the consolidation was approved. The Blue Sky-KG effort was being watched very closely, he said.
Because declining school enrollments and a tight state budget are making it harder for districts, especially in rural areas, to function, OPI supports finding ways to work more efficiently, he said.
"We're very pleased the districts were able to work it out," Lamson said. "Every time we're able to create efficiencies through consolidation and it works on the local level, we're all for it."
KG Superintendent John Ballard said the next steps are up to Hill County Superintendent of Schools Shirley Isbell and the interim board she will appoint.
"I had no idea which way it was going to go myself," he said. "I assumed it was going to be close and it was."
Blue Sky Superintendent Terry Grant said he is pleased with the vote. Grant and his school board publicly supported consolidation. Ballard and the KG school board took no public position.
"I think that in the name of education we really needed to get this done," Grant said. "Now the work's going to start.
Once Isbell receives the official vote count, she will appoint an interim school board to oversee the consolidation. The interim board, which will exist only until permanent board members are selected at the next school election, will deal with a number of major issues, including the ocation of the high school, how many teachers will be hired and who will be hired, and what classes will be offered.
Grant said he thinks the name, mascot and colors for the new school district should be up to the students.
"They need to tell the adults," he said.
Federspiel, who plans to send her 2-year-old son, Ethan, to the consolidated school, said she thinks the single districts would not have been able to last.
"Our school, KG, I don't see them being able to keep going on their own. So why not work together with our neighbors to keep a school on the Hi-Line and some of our identity," she said.