By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
RUDYARD - With little comment from the audience and even less fanfare, the board overseeing the consolidation of the Blue Sky and KG school districts took its first official acts Monday, including placing grades K-6 in Gildford and 7-12 in Rudyard.
The board also opened contract negotiations with Blue Sky Superintendent Terry Grant to become superintendent in the consolidated district, and approved a new name for the district - North Star - and a new mascot, the North Star Knights.
The audience of more than 80 people generally complied with board chair Merlin Wolery's request not to cause a disturbance during the board's discussion.
"Some of these are emotional issues. We've tried to take the emotion out and I don't think we've been successful," Wolery said.
"If we could, hold the cheers and save them for the North Star Knights, and hold your jeers," Wolery added.
Some residents said after the meeting that they are pleased with the board's actions.
"I am very happy with the decision," Laura Federspiel of Gildford said. "The school board members did a heck of a job."
Chelise Sterner, also of Gildford, agreed. Sterner helped organize meetings that revived the consolidation discussions last winter after they had been abandoned by the KG district.
Her son now attends Blue Sky. She said having the elementary school in Gildford will be convenient for her grandson, who lives between Kremlin and Gildford, when he starts school.
Monday was the first meeting at which the board could take formal action. It had been planning the consolidation since it was created following a public vote to consolidate the two districts in June, but had no official powers until the first of the year.
Board members Mitzi Dees and JoHanna Kapperud, who also are members of the KG board, said they thought it would be better to place the high school in Gildford and have grades K-8 in Rudyard.
The two said keeping the high school in Gildford would allow the district to attract more students from the east, specifically Havre.
"I'm just feeling that having the high school at the Gildford site would keep the door open for future growth from out-of-district kids," Dees said.
Kapperud said shrinking class sizes will require getting more students or closing buildings again. The consolidation will close the Kremlin elementary school, which may be put up for sale.
"The enrollment's not going to stay up there," she said. "If we keep it in Gildford, we have a better chance of drawing new students from the east."
Board members Lyle Petersen and Mike Lipp, both members of Blue Sky's board, said they think it would be better to keep grades seven and eight with the high school, and placing grades 7-12 in Rudyard as a consulting team had recommended in 2003.
"I'd like to see seven through 12 stay together. Then you're looking at room size, more classrooms and bigger classrooms (at Blue Sky). I guess that's where I'm at," he said.
Petersen said he thinks requiring teachers who teach both middle school and high school classes to drive back and forth between the two towns would be a problem.
Wolery, a former Blue Sky board member, agreed with Lipp and Petersen, adding that he is confident the schools could remain open under that setup for at least 10 years.
Dees asked for and received some compromises. The board agreed that graduation ceremonies would alternate between the towns, starting in Rudyard next year, and that basketball would be based in Gildford, with football, track and volleyball based in Rudyard.
She also stipulated that the district try to move playground equipment from the Kremlin and Rudyard schools to Gildford. That would help make sure the new elementary school has playground equipment while reducing the cost to the new district, Dees said.
The board's votes on most of the items on its agenda were 4-0.
Wolery had to break a tie vote on who will be the new superintendent.
Both Kapperud and Dees voted to hire KG Superintendent John Ballard, while Lipp and Petersen voted for Grant.
Wolery broke the tie in a second vote, approving negotiating with Grant.
The board resolution said it wants negotiations to be completed in 30 days.
"This is probably one of the toughest things I've had to do in the last 20 years," Lipp said about his vote for superintendent.
The board also approved continuing all existing contracts, agreements and policies in place in the two districts through the end of the school year.
A new board will be elected in May, with the five members then drawing lots to determine the length of their terms. The random drawing will set a staggered election system for the members, with one member getting a one-year term, two receiving two-year terms and two receiving three-year terms.