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Voters To Decide School Reorganization In December

By Staff | Oct 9, 2008

TERRIL – “You guys have been engaged long enough. It’s time to get married or go your separate ways.”

That sentiment summed up the feelings of the majority of persons in attendance at a public hearing Thursday night, Oct. 2 in Terril. The hearing, conducted by the Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency Board concluding with a vote by the AEA Board to approve a reorganization petition for the Graettinger and Terril school districts.

The AEA Board’s public hearing in the Terril gym allowed members of the public to express their opinions on the proposal. The AEA Board also considered a total of 27 objections and petitions to opt property out of the proposed reorganized district during the hearing.

Dean Saunders, President of the Prairie Lakes Board, opened the hearing by thanking the nearly 50 persons who turned out. “I thank you all for taking your time away from other things you’d rather be doing to be here for the children.”

AEA Administrator Dr. Kay Forsythe noted it was the organization’s responsibility to make sure that the procedures for a reorganization, or merger, were complied with.

“You need to remember, though, that the AEA doesn’t make the decision on your petition to reorganize,” Dr. Forsythe said. “That is a local decision – a decision of the voters in both districts.”

The history of events leading up to the public hearing were reviewed by G/T Superintendent Dan Mart, starting with the actual establishment of a steering committee in Terril back in 2001-2002.

“In 2003, the Terril School Board began talks with the Graettinger School Board for the purpose of whole-grade sharing,” Mart explained. “The whole-grade sharing began in the 2004-05 school year, with grades 9-12 attending Graettinger, grades six through eight attending Terril and each community hosting their own elementary grades.”

That initial sharing agreement was modified in 2007 to extend the agreement to 2012.

Mart also explained that the districts share his position of Superintendent, as well as instrumental music, vocal music and librarian positions, and both districts utilize grade-alike procedures.

“We feel our efforts have been very successful,” Mart told the AEA Board. “We learned just a day ago that out of all the school districts in Merged Area III served by Iowa Lakes Community College, the Graettinger/Terril district has the highest percentage of students, 43 to 47 percent, who are attending ILCC in college programs as high school students. The past four years of our whole-grade sharing are a perfect example of what two communities and schools can do for their kids.”

As he concluded his remarks, Mart told the AEA Board members what a district patron had told him a year earlier. “You guys have been engaged long enough. It’s time to get married or go your separate ways.” Mart said. “That’s why we’re here, asking your blessing.”

Graettinger School Board President Bill Brown told the AEA Board that denying the petition for reorganization “would set a bad precedent for any other districts considering a reorganization. We are doing this from a position of financial strength, not weakness. Our districts have a 20 percent solvency rate, and the Department of Education recommends 10 percent. We’re doing this to pool all of our resources to provide a stable educational system down the road for our students.”

Terril Board President Larry Flaharty noted that the motto of the Terril Community Schools was “Changing lives – one student at a time. I think we do that very well.”

Flaharty continued, “Through this whole-grade sharing, we have grown from two communities who were bitter rivals in athletic events, who have become partners in the education of our youth. On the northeast corner of this building is the cornerstone of the Terril School. Eight men had a vision for the future education of our children back in 1914. Tonight, our two school boards are coming together to do the same thing.”

Rick Engel, legal counsel for the two districts, pointed out that if the reorganization plan were approved in a public vote, it would become effective July 1, 2010. “I would respectfully ask this board to allow these two districts and their patrons the opportunity to vote on this reorganization.”

A total of seven individuals from the two districts spoke during the public comment period. All were supportive of the reorganization petition, speaking highly of the quality of education provided through the district.

Marge Tindall, who retired from the district after 19 years as a teacher, noted that she saw a lot of potential for excellence in education if the reorganization were to be completed.

Joanne Gano, a former teacher from Terril echoed Tindall’s thoughts. “Walk into any classroom in this building and you will see quality education at all levels. I’m proud of what we’re doing here. We have much to be proud of.”

Other speakers agreed the quality of education was second to none, and that they wanted their tax dollars to support the district in the future.

Attorney Rick Engel discussed the written objections and requests, noting that both the Graettinger and Terril boards had reviewed the objections. “On behalf of these boards, we would respectfully ask that you not grant any of the objections and approve the petition for reorganization as submitted.”

AEA Board Member Ed O’Leary of Fort Dodge spoke up. “Everyone here tonight who spoke was in favor of this action, is that correct?”

With assent from the speakers, O’Leary contined. “I would introduce the motion to accept the petition as presented and reject the objections.”

Ramon Fisher of Humboldt seconded the motion, and on a roll call vote of the board, the petition was approved on a 6-0 vote. Three members of the AEA board were absent and did not vote.

“I would say that our work here is done,” Saunders told the audience. “Again, I thank you for attending and making your feelings known.”

All that remains is to conduct the vote of each district’s patrons in both communities on December 2. A simple majority plus one vote is required in each school district for the reorganization to pass.