Two stable small area districts look to positive future as partners
Rather than getting caught in a rainstorm from the gathering storm clouds of state mandates, Newell-Fonda and Schaller-Crestland are looking into sharing academic services before anything becomes mandated.
Representatives of the two districts are scheduled to meet in Early today for discussions that could lead to shared classes by next year and perhaps a new joint school within half a decade.
Schaller-Crestland Superintendent Dave Kwikkel said the two districts are now in the stage of looking at similarities between the districts to "see what are possibilities."
"It's about academics," Kwikkel said.
"We are trying to give our kids more opportunities for an education than they have now," said Ron Day, Newell-Fonda superintendent.
With both districts at about 450 students each, there are many similarities - from their proximity to the larger city of Storm Lake, and their nearly equal distance to Nemaha, where it has been suggested that a new school could be built if N-F and S-C should pursue consolidation in the long-term future.
"It's in the exploratory stages to see if it could work," according to Kwikkel. Day said that Nemaha is a location people in both districts are familiar with.
The goal would be a shared facility within five years, Day added. "That is the vision."
Neither district is financially strapped, so money is not the issue behind the discussions of sharing, Kwikkel said. "We have no debt," Kwikkel said. "We have decent facilities."
Day agrees, saying that the districts are both in stable condition as far as Iowa rural school districts go. Without sharing, he projects that Newell-Fonda will shrink by a dozen students or so in the next five years.
The future, however, could bring change. Both districts face the inevitability of declining rural populations. There is also the possibility of a state mandate to share services - or else. This year's legislature pushed particularly hard for local governments to plan to consolidate services.
"We're not dropping by thirties and forties like we were a couple of years ago," Kwikkel said, adding, "Both towns just took a proactive look at it."
Kwikkel said "there's a pretty reasonable chance that we could have something put together" for sharing classes via ICN or some other means by the 2006-07 academic year.
However, the first agreement could be inked as early as today. Day said that Newell-Fonda is prepared to sign off immediately on an athletic sharing agreement that would allow for joint wrestling and cross-country teams next season with Schaller-Crestland. His school currently does not have the numbers to offer either sport alone.
Such a deal could be a stepping stone for future discussions on academic sharing, although Day is quick to point out that everything is "in the discussion stage" at this time, and nothing is set in stone.
Kwikkel said the reason the two districts are having a discussion is proximity and similarity. "It's really a matter of how your districts line up," Kwikkel said. They share similar strengths and challenges, including the impact of their residents often doing business or being employed in Storm Lake.
"We're trying to be proactive versus reactive to mandates," Kwikkel said.
He emphasized that there is no rush toward consolidation for economic reasons and that both districts plan at remaining at full staff for some time.
"We're not about cutting," Kwikkel said. "We're in healthy enough financial shape. It's a positive approach by two boards trying to be very positive."