By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Some old issues came up Monday during discussion of new business by the interim board for the Kremlin-Gildford and Blue Sky consolidated district: Which town should have the high school and which should have the elementary school.
Vice chair Mitzi Dees of Kremlin said the decision shouldn't be based on emotions.
"It comes down to dollars and cents. It comes down to the best education for the children," she said.
By the end of the meeting, questions about where to locate the high school were unresolved.
Board chair Merlin Wolery said he wants to hold another meeting, tentatively scheduled for Oct. 26, to discuss the issue further, then put it to a vote at the board's Nov. 8 meeting.
After the KG board in February 2003 withdrew from consolidation discussions with the Blue Sky board, a parent-driven effort last winter revived the talks, citing declining enrollment and concern about the need to cut programs because of shrinking budgets.
Voters in both districts approved consolidating the districts in June.
Hill County Superintendent of Schools Shirley Isbell appointed the interim board, which can discuss issues now but can't take official action until January.
The consolidation effort is expected to place the high school/junior high school in either Gildford or Rudyard, with the elementary school in the other town. Under that scenario, the aging grade school in Kremlin will likely be closed.
Board member Mike Lipp of Hingham suggested looking at the size and number of classes in each building, and reviewing the recommendations of the consultants the boards hired in 2002 during their earlier consolidation talks.
The consultants recommended placing kindergarten through sixth grade in Gildford and seventh through 12th grade in Rudyard. However, one of the consultants e-mailed the superintendents of the districts with a personal comment, saying he thought it would be better to place kindergarten through eighth grade in Rudyard and ninth through 12th grade in Gildford, and closing that school if enrollment continued to decline. Those comments prompted the KG board to withdraw from the talks.
Dees said the consolidation board shouldn't depend on the consultants' report because it contained inaccuracies, including under-reporting the number of out-of-district students in the KG system.
Lipp said the consultants' guidance was still valuable.
"We've got the tool in our hands," he said.
Dees and board member JoHanna Kapperud also said that if the high school is located in Rudyard, some of the KG high school students from Havre won't want to travel farther and their numbers will decline. That would reduce the per-student funding the district would receive.
"They do bring money into our district which the in-district kids benefit from," Kapperud said.
She said the district could lose about 19 out-of-district students now attending KG high school.
Board member Lyle Petersen said that if the consolidated district placed the high school in Gildford to attract out-of-district students, that would force out-of-district grade school students to travel the extra distance, about 12 miles one way.
Kapperud said the KG district has more out-of-district high school students than elementary school students.
Lipp said out-of-district students wouldn't have to travel any farther than in-district students. He noted that some in-district students now travel 25 or 30 miles to get to school.
Petersen said in-district families will have to make sacrifices to make the consolidation work.
"These out-of-district kids, we'd love to have them, but they have to make sacrifices too," he said.
Wolery said he believes the same factors that attract Havre students to the rural district will continue to attract them after consolidation.
The board also discussed how the grades should be split.
Lipp said he wants to keep grades seven through 12 together. If those grades are divided up, teachers who now teach both junior high and high school classes would have to travel between towns to teach, he said.
Dees said putting grades K through eight together may be a better idea, with elementary teachers handling the junior high classes now taught by high school teachers.
Another thing to consider is making sure the elementary school has playground equipment at the beginning of the school year, Dees said.
"I hate to think of starting the school year without playground equipment," she said.
Wolery said that if Gildford is chosen for the elementary school, playground equipment could be moved from Rudyard and Kremlin. However, he said, he would prefer to buy new equipment.
"I guess I'm not interested in taking playground equipment from either community," he said.
Members of the audience said new playground equipment can be very expensive, as much as $15,000 for a small unit with one slide, which doesn't include installation.
Rob Spicher of Hingham said good deals can be found. Hingham has been looking for a new set of playground equipment for its town park, and found a company giving 40 percent off its regular price. The town can get a two- to three-unit set of playground equipment for $25,000 including delivery, and use volunteer labor to install it, he said.
Petersen said he wants to hear from the teachers of both schools about what they want from the consolidation, including what classes they think could be added and which building would be best.
Superintendents John Ballard of KG and Terry Grant of Blue Sky said they are trying to coordinate a meeting of the districts' teachers.
Russ Hanson of Gildford suggested the districts' students tour each others' schools to evaluate which would be best for the high school.
"I think that's a great idea," he said.