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Seven school districts consider reorganization

Prairie Lakes AEA will hold public hearings to assess approvals or disapprovals

November 8, 2012
By BRANDON L. SUMMERS, , Messenger News

Seven area school districts are considering reorganization.

Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency, tasked by the state, is holding public hearings to either approve or disapprove the petition in the communities.

"Our role really is just to look at, is the petition in order, have they followed the rules as outlined by the state, and the recommendations, and if so, then we approve their votes, which then their publics will do in 2013," Jeff Herzberg, PLAEA chief administrator, said.

Three community school districts have already been approved for reorganization, Herzberg said: Jefferson-Scranton and East Greene, Rockwell City-Southern Cal, and Algona and Titonka.

"Coming up in the spring we'll be having meetings with Clarion (Goldfield) and Dows, and Armstrong-Ringsted and Central," he said. "It's tentative, but we think we'll be moving forward with that one as well."

The benefits of reorganizing are many for districts experiencing low enrollment that want to maintain a high quality of education for its students, Herzberg said. Whether it is two equally sized small districts consolidating or a larger district absorbing a smaller one, a greater efficiency of resources is gained.

"There are definitely academic and programming aspects that have to be looked at, because there's a point where our smaller schools can't offer everything our kids need, whether it's upper lever academics or a wide range of extracurricular programs," he said.

Shades of this have already been seen in smaller school districts with whole grade sharing programs, for example.

"That's kind of the first step in this process," Herzberg said. "We would say that's more of a dating phase, and then they enter into this reorganization where they decide, this is a partner we're going to have, we want to enter into a long-term agreement, and then consolidate or reorganize into one district instead of having two or three in the mix."

The petition to reorganize is made by the school districts. The PLAEA board only holds a reorganization hearing, open to the public, to hear the petition on behalf of the state, Herzberg explained.

"We listen to the petitioners and anybody who might object to the petition," he said. "Folks can object in the district on the petition itself, saying we don't think this petition is in order, and they can also object to having their land join the new district."

There have not been any objections this year, though, to the reorganizations, Herzberg said.

"Some of these things happened five, 10, 20 years ago in the first round of consolidation efforts, where people were upset about it and didn't understand, and didn't want to join their arch-rival," he said.

With approval of their petitions, public referendums will be held in these districts' communities on Feb. 5.

"There's only four dates now that schools can have a special election, and February 5th is the first one of 2013," Herzberg said. "They're held quarterly. If they have the vote in calendar year 2013, they can be reorganized as of July 1, 2014."



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