Alta offers one-way sharing proposal to Aurelia schools

Monday, April 30, 2007

After receiving a proposal for a two-way sharing arrangement with neighboring Aurelia, the Alta School Board this week responded with a counterproposal that would call for a one-way sharing deal bringing Aurelia students into Alta.

Alta Superintendent Fred Maharry delivered the material to Aurelia's Tom Vint on Friday.

Alta's board members said they couldn't see the benefits of sending their students to Aurelia. Discussions with Aurelia board members, Alta's public and teachers had included sending all of Aurelia's high school-age students to Alta to share in all areas including academics, sports and fine arts, potentially leading to consolidation.

Aurelia, however, had hopes that Alta could spare some kids in the lower grades in order to bring some money into their district as well.

Alta board member Bruce Glienke said he didn't think it was fair to Alta's taxpayers to send kids to Aurelia. "We have room for our kids here and we've made the investment for our middle school."

He would "love" to see an agreement be worked out with Aurelia, however, feeling that the both high schools could benefit.

Alta leaders are unanimous against the two-way plan.

Board member Dale Wetherell said caution should be taken.

"The track record (between Alta and Aurelia) hasn't been the greatest. I don't want to put things out there and stretch my neck out and have it come back on us."

Alta and Aurelia have talked sharing before, and shared sports for a time, only to have the districts part in frustration.

Ila Galvin, board member who is also a retired teacher, said she recalls the seven years of sharing the two districts had years ago.

"Those people really enjoyed it," she said, adding that she has spoken to some 30-40 people from both districts who had positive things to say about the talks and the possibility of another sharing agreement.

Board president Val Rosenthal said she felt by "inviting" the Aurelia High School to join them, the educational opportunities would increase greatly. Changes will be in place for next year at the Alta High School, changing from an eight to nine period day; more classes will be offered to students. With an increased number of students, additional classes could be offered. It was pointed out that Aurelia also offers some programs, an example is the marketing DECA program, that could be considered in the Alta curriculum.

With the open enrollment laws, it is unclear how many students from Aurelia would actually come over to Alta, if an agreement is entered into. Some families might choose another school closest to their location - Cherokee, Galva-Holstein or Sioux Central could gain some Aurelia students.

The name would remain "Alta" if a sharing deal is made, the Alta board decided. Sporting events would, however, introduce the players as "Alta-Aurelia Cyclones." No logo or uniform changes would be made initially.

It was suggested by the Alta board to allow for a three-year deal and at that time, take it to the public for a vote. If the districts eventually decide to consolidate, then the money would go into the costly process of changing logos and investing in new uniforms.

Wetherell stressed he did not agree that Aurelia's name should be included until a consolidation was made.

Rosenthal said she felt it would be a "positive" thing for Aurelia, having their name included on the high school letterheads and as part of the Alta Cyclones teams. "They need to be able to keep some of their community pride, too," she said.

It was suggested that the booster club might decide to design new t-shirts, but that is their choice. T-shirts, the board agreed, are more disposable and less costly as uniforms. Galvin said she, and probably many others, still have the old Alta-Aurelia Warrior shirts.

The Alta board would like to perhaps "entice" some of the Aurelia students to their district by offering a three-year reduction in tuition costs - the first year charging 85 percent, the second 90 percent and the third 95 percent. At the end of those three years, they would propose that public vote.

The Alta high school teaching staff would be left in place according to the counterproposal from Alta, but the Aurelia teachers, who would lose jobs if the high school were moved to Alta, would have the opportunity to apply for any open positions in the Alta district. The Aurelia district would also be responsible for busing students to Alta, if they do not drive themselves.

"We have many more details to work out," said Rosenthal. "This is a learning process... They have a big decision to make but I'm being optimistic. If it goes like I think it will, it will be a positive thing for our school district and community."

Galvin added, "This would provide all of us longevity. It would give us both the chance to last longer as a smaller school than if we do nothing."

At the bottom of the proposal, the board included, "We're willing to negotiate and are open to ideas."

Aurelia keeping its options open

Aurelia Superintendent Tom Vint hadn't had the opportunity to fully review Alta School Board's proposal for a sharing agreement, but he told the Pilot-Tribune late this week that the district is keeping its options open by talking with the two neighboring districts at the same time.

The Aurelia board members were invited to Cherokee recently to discuss a two-way sharing proposal similar to the one made to the Alta District.

Like Alta, Cherokee does not wish to become involved in a two-way agreement, which would send students both ways.

Vint said he could not make a timetable as to how soon Aurelia's high school students would have to go elsewhere, but there are concerns over enrollment realities.

Middle school numbers at Aurelia are low and the school has graduated a few large classes over the last few years. Currently, he said, Aurelia has 120 high school students; within two years, those numbers are expected to drop down to 80. The district stands to lose about $5,000 in state aid per student declined. The elementary school numbers, he said, are stable right now.

He commends the Aurelia School Board for taking a proactive approach and looking into the future.

"Their number one thought is that they are trying to provide the best education possible. As they visit about the future of education, they don't want to see the quality of the programs to diminish."

When numbers drop, and there are fewer and fewer students to fill up the courses offered, he noted.

In the 2002-03 school year, Aurelia also had a net loss of 12 to 15 through open enrollment to other districts, but this year, they saw a net gain of two.

"We have different options we are looking at," Vint said. As the process advances, public input will also be sought.

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