A northern Iowa school district and one four miles away in Minnesota are considering a cross-border merger to save their cash-strapped districts.
The merger of Northwood-Kensett district and Glenville-Emmons district in Minnesota would be the first of its kind in Iowa.
"The demographics of Iowa have changed, and people have to deal with it," said Arnie Snook, superintendent of the Northwood-Kensett district.
Five of Northwood-Kensett's 47 teachers were let go last year, the first time the district ever cut teachers, Snook said. Overall state aid, based on enrollment, will fall as enrollment continues to drop.
"School superintendents won't be able to sit back on their heels," Snook said. "I know I've been criticized for it, but we have a problem."
The Glenville-Emmons district on Monday cut $800,000 from its budget, laid off 14 teachers and decided to close a fourth- through eight-grade building. About 50 students will go to Lake Mills in Iowa next year.
Iowa education officials say several border districts allow a limited number of students to enroll from other states, but no Iowa district has entered into a cross-border merger. Interstate districts have been forged between Indiana and Ohio, and New Hampshire and Vermont.
"I think it's very innovative," said Linda Embrey of the National School Board Association in Alexandria, Va. "It's certainly unusual."
But such a merger could prove difficult. State officials are reviewing the law to see if it could happen. Any Iowa-Minnesota merger would need approval from the Iowa Department of Education and the Minnesota Department of Children, Families and Learning.
Critics say a merger would result in problems, such as how to match up educational requirements.
"This is going to be a tough call," Northwood Mayor Bob Perry said. "You'll find teachers in Glenville-Emmons making up to $6,000 more a year. To work out these details and the dozens of others will be tough."
Guy Ghan, a former consultant for the Iowa Department of Education, said he doesn't think it would work.
"A local government in Iowa joining with one in Minnesota? It's never happened, and it goes against all the recommendations that we've ever made," he said.
The school districts are discussing other options, too.