Rare countywide school district possible in Sac
Four school districts in Sac County are contemplating possible future whole grade sharing by the 2004-2005 school year, a move that could eventually result in the formation of one countywide school district.
Superintendents of the Schaller-Crestland, Odebolt-Arthur, Sac City and Wall Lake View Auburn school districts met on Dec. 3 for a preliminary discussion about the consolidation issue, and will reconvene on Feb. 3 for a second meeting regarding the topic.
John Kraft, business manager and board secretary of the WLVA district, said the school leaders talked primarily about financial issues at the conference, and did not finalize any agreements regarding any future consolidation moves.
"The topic at the first meeting was about finances and what these four schools want to do to stay solvent," Kraft said. "The only agreement made at that meeting was to visit with each of the individual school boards about the matter."
A detailed plan involving county consolidation was then unveiled by each respective superintendent at their district school board meetings over the past two weeks, and the prospective plan would include several whole grade sharing agreements between individual schools.
Plan highlights include:
* Whole grade sharing would take place between Sac City and Schaller-Crestland, with the high school located in Sac City.
* Whole grade sharing would take place between Odebolt-Arthur and WLVA, with the high school in Lake View.
* Each current school district would maintain their own pre-kindergarten through fifth grade schools. Schaller-Crestland students would take classes at the building in Schaller.
* The Schaller-Crestland and Odebolt-Arthur districts would be the home for middle school students. Schaller-Crestland students would go to the facility at Early for classes.
* Each of the two high schools would develop a regional high school philosophy, particularly for subjects such as industrial arts and vocational agriculture.
* If enrollment continues to decline in the near future, the districts could bypass the idea of two high schools and implement one countywide district with only one high school.
The only current countywide district in the state is in Davis County in southern Iowa, which switched to the format in 1960. Students from the surrounding towns all meet in Bloomfield for classes, and Davis County curriculum director Anne Morgan said the system has worked well for the 1,200-student district.
"Davis County has between 8,000 and 9,000 people total, so the school is the anchor for the county," Morgan, a district employee since 1974, said. "Students think of each other as all from the same community, and with 1,200 students, we can offer more course offerings, more classrooms and more variety of staff than smaller districts."
Kathy Slaughter of the Iowa Department of Education agreed with Morgan that consolidation can provide several benefits for participating school districts, particularly in the areas of academics, finances and extracurricular activities.
"The biggest concern is that schools will be able to provide a better academic setting for students," Slaughter said. "Often that is very difficult for smaller schools, because it is harder for them to hire qualified teachers, and if they have declining enrollments, then finances are also a concern. Consolidation can be a good way to meet all of those academic and financial needs.
"A countywide or consolidated system may also increase opportunities for students because they may have access to a particular coach or program that they might not have had before," Slaughter continued. "There may be more sports because it will be a larger school, and in academics, if you have 20 kids who want to start up a Spanish club, it could happen because there may be a teacher that would be willing to sponsor it now in a bigger school."
However, Slaughter said there are many issues the Sac County districts must address before deciding to consolidate. Practical matters such as laying out bus routes, figuring out which athletics and activities conference the district will be in, deciding which teachers will teach what subject in what school and making sure travel arrangements are not an undo hardship for students must all be looked at before any action is taken.
Slaughter and Morgan both said community input is vital in any possible consolidation plan, but Morgan said the four Sac County administrators will need to set that input aside if hard choices regarding consolidation are unavoidable in the near future.
"The school leaders need to involve as many people as possible in all communities for input, but someone then has to take the lead and make some tough decisions," Morgan said. "They need to remember that input or advice is simply that. It is not a vote."
Superintendents Ross Ospal of Sac City, Gerald Scott of Schaller-Crestland, Dennis Johnson of Odebolt-Arthur and Barb Kruthoff of Wall Lake View Auburn were all at a superintendent's conference in Des Moines on Wednesday and were unavailable for comment at press time.