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Sharing plan remains stuck

October 13, 2011
Jenn Brookens - Staff Writer , Fairmont Sentinel

FENTON, Iowa - Time is running out and the pressure is beginning to show on the three northern Iowa school districts attempting to whole-grade share.

Armstrong-Ringsted, Sentral and North Kossuth are still taking baby steps toward an agreement. The three managed to meet the state deadline to file an intent to share, but now must sign and file a plan by Feb. 1. Each district must first hold a public hearing before January.

"So you're looking at early to mid-December, unless you want to try to mess with it during Christmas," warned attorney Rick Engel, who is representing all three districts. "That's not a lot of time, so you need to keep that timeline in mind."

The main sticking point for an agreement has not been resolved. Sentral Superintendent Art Pixler presented a plan on how the Sentral building can easily hold all the K-4 students in the three districts. A compromise involving North Kossuth sending its 2-4 grades to Sentral also was presented. But North Kossuth is holding firm to its position of keeping its elementary students.

"Our preK-5 is a solid building, with interactive white boards in every room," said North Kossuth Superintendent Mike Landstrum.

Landstrum acknowledged a fear of losing students to Algona or North Iowa is driving North Kossuth's stand.

"We have 35 open-enrolled to Algona right now, and zero open-enrolled in from there," he said. "If we have these students in the same building for 10 years, there is a greater chance they will stay with the district for the remaining four."

Engel discussed the ins and outs of whole-grade sharing, using the current contract between North Kossuth and Sentral as an example.

"It's unusual to have three-way whole-grade sharing," Engel said. "But it's not unheard of."

Once there is a consensus among the three school boards, public hearings can be held. Following that, a simple majority vote of each board is needed for it to pass.

However, many of the details discussed by Enger are moot points, since there is still the sticking point that doesn't seem to be going away.

"Have you thought of any other options besides having North Kossuth's elementary students?" Armstrong-Ringsted school board member Jen Von Bank asked the Sentral school board.

"We could do a number of things," said Sentral school board member Cory Culbertson. "We could terminate the whole-grade sharing with North Kossuth and start one with you. We could dissolve. Or we could just accept it."

But toward the end of the evening, a curveball was thrown when North Kossuth suggested it might be willing to send its elementary students to Sentral - in exchange for getting the high school students instead.

"Why do you want to change this now?" asked Armstrong-Ringsted board president Jim Boyer.

"It's called compromise," responded North Kossuth board member Jeanne Kinney.

The suggestion brought a lot of grumbling from the audience, and frustration from the other boards.

"Eventually, the community is going to make its own decision," said Culbertson, referring to the drawn-out process that has been in the works for years but is running out of time to create a new reality for the schools.



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