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Iowa school district dating game?

July 27, 2010 - Jennifer Brookens

As I sat through yet another school board meeting for one of my Iowa districts, I started realizing how the school boards of North Sentral Kossuth and Armstrong-Ringsted are almost playing "the dating game" as they try to determine their futures.

They've grown up side by side, seen the same struggles that have hit their neighborhoods, have "flirted" with each other by sharing some teachers, talked about "what if we..." But nothing has ever come of it.

Then last year, Armstrong-Ringsted declares its intentions. North Kossuth says they're in a commitiment with Sentral and appears uninterested. Disappointed, A-R tries to move on, even scoping out the big dog district in Emmet County, Estherville Lincoln Central. But A-R hasn't completely given up on NK and Sentral. (Unlike the socially-accepted dating game, it is possible to have more than two districts enter into a "relationship." )

And the real dance begins: both sides are scared to declare "all in." One side complained about getting the cold shoulder, while the other says, "Well, what IS your relationship with that district?!" Each side takes turns worrying about how it's "moving so fast," and sometimes complains the other is "playing head games." 

It's easy to see why these frustrations would mount, as we sit through yet another meeting of board members saying "Let's Do This" versus "Let's wait until.../Let's talk to.../Let's call.../ Let's have another meeting first."

It's been done over and over with the same results: nothing. These districts have danced this dance for the past 20 years, and they are still in the same spot as they were then, except today things look more dire.

All the experts agree time is running out for these rural districts, and the state is willing to crack down. (It happened to their neighbors at Woden-Crystal Lake-Titonka: the district dissolved, and the students are being split between Algona and Forest City).

To save these rural districts on the citizens' terms, a plan of action needs to be taken and now, before the districts are so crippled  the state decides for them. Set aside the pride and go all in, or stop playing the game, walk away and find the solution that's "meant to be." Because continuting to toe the line and do nothing will gain nothing but more frustration and heartache for all involved.



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