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Alta School Board wants to resume sharing talks with Aurelia

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Community meeting set for Dec. 19 at Roxy

The Alta School Board members will be organizing a meeting for Friday, Dec. 19, to discuss sharing options for the school district and gather opinions from the community - again.

With continued enrollment declines and less state money coming in because of it, there is a great fear that decisions need to be made soon.

The Alta board is in agreement that Aurelia would be the best fit, taking into consideration the proximity and the size of the two districts.

"We have the same make up," said board member Dave Turnquist. "We have a chance here if we can work it out. We can't dance around the subject any longer. We're heading down a slippery slope and something needs to be done."

"A community meeting is the first place to start," said board member Dale Wetherell. "It's obvious we're going to have to make some decisions but I'm not ready to do that without a community meeting."

New-comer to the board Dr. Greg Kueny said he felt that Aurelia was a "viable option" but other options should be explored. "We need to make sure the community is on board."

Board President Ila Galvin told the board, "The state is going to continue to come in with all kinds of things with our declining enrollment that we can't meet. The bottom line is we have to make a choice or we may be swallowed up faster than we'd think."

Alta board members have had discussions with Schaller-Crestland board members in the past, keeping options open. Board members at Thursday's meeting touched on the fact that while sharing with Schaller-Crestland could be an option, "it's a muddier picture" with Nemaha, Early and Schaller already together. The distance necessary to travel to and from school would become a major factor - no one wants their kids on the roads any longer then they have to be.

The board members agreed they didn't want to lose their identity and showed concern if an agreement is not made and the financial difficulties and declining enrollment situations continue that perhaps the state could come in and push them into Storm Lake.

It is a big decision. Alta board members, as well as board members from several of the area small schools have seen it coming.

Discussions with Aurelia have been going on a little bit at a time for several years - proposals and counter proposals and even counter counter proposal letters discussing who is willing to give up what have prevented the talks from becoming any more than just that.

Alta's enrollment dropped by 20 students this fall. Financially, that means there will be over $100,000 less state income to work with next year (as funding is based on enrollment numbers from the previous year.) Aurelia was down 10 students this fall so will see $50,000 less in state aid.

Alta board members don't want to get to the point where they are forced to reduce staff - and ultimately programs - because there isn't enough money in the budget.

Aurelia has had discussions with the Cherokee School Board as recently as a few months ago, keeping their options open, too. Aurelia, too, is facing the same problems as Alta. When their superintendent left at the end of the 2007-08 school year, they opted to share a superintendent with the Hartley-Melvin School District as a form of saving costs. The arrangement is working well. Lynn Evans is a graduate of Aurelia High School.

Alta and Aurelia have had a running rivalry for many years but it is time for the two districts to put those differences aside and come together for the kids. The board members believe this can happen.

Alta residents are reminded to attend the meeting on Friday, Dec. 19, 6:30 p.m. at the Roxy Theatre.

Alta Board President Ila Galvin said she was told by members of the Aurelia board that they will resume sharing talks at the January meeting.

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