ARMSTRONG - Armstrong-Ringsted, North Kossuth and Sentral school districts have approved a whole-grade sharing agreement expected to take effect next school year.
Armstrong-Ringsted was the last of the three to approve the contract, doing so Monday.
The next step is a public hearing for all three districts, then the contract must be submitted to the state of Iowa by Feb. 1.
"We are nearing the end of a very long process," said A-R Superintendent Randy Collins.
On hand for Monday's meeting was North Kossuth Superintendent Mike Landstrum. While negotiations with North Kossuth had some rocky points, Landstrum stressed that North Kossuth is committed to making three-way sharing work.
"We have approved the contract and we really like what we see in it," he said. "There is one part that makes us nervous, and that's the dissolution of one of the districts, [meaning] that the whole-grade sharing agreement is nullified ... We'd like to see a 10-year-contract; we really want to make this a go."
The current contract is for five years, with a one-year rollover for each year following. Acting A-R board president Jen Von Bank explained that the contract is only for five years because it cannot tie the hands of future school boards in case circumstances change.
Landstrum also addressed the meeting held Nov. 3, at which A-R and Sentral announced a whole-grade sharing agreement was reached.
"It appeared that the [NK] board stood it up but that was not intentional," Landstrum said. "We only learned about it the day before, and we weren't sure if we were wanted there, so we didn't show ... But this is something we really want to see happen, and we want to make it work."
The work cut out for the three districts to share peacefully is reflected in the sports sharing agreement. Because North Kossuth is the host for cheerleading and basketball, there have been some questions, and some frustrations.
"The girls out there cheering want to cheer for the whole team," Landstrum said. "But they don't just want to say 'Go Eagles;' they want to support the whole team."
One A-R parent whose daughter is on the basketball team spoke out about the feeling of team alienation.
"She says she does not want to be an Eagle," the woman said.
Both superintendents and the A-R school board were sympathetic toward the loss of identity for one school.
"Our sports liaison board is having a meeting on Dec. 7," said Landstrum. "I think we really need to bring students together in one meeting. Right now they're segregated."
Another parent suggested students vote on new colors, mascot and song. Von Bank agreed.
"I think it's been our belief all along that it is the students who should choose," she said.
But another concern brought up was the cost of the overhaul.
"It costs a lot to re-do all the mats, all the uniforms, all the colors," said Lupe Kollasch of North Kossuth. "And what happens if it's only good for two or three years?"
Another attendee pointed out that the new identity should come after the schools consolidate.
"But we're not even close to that," he added.
In both cases, for sharing sports and academics, it came back to learning to come together.
"What other options do any of us districts have except for each other?" Von Bank asked.
The public hearings on whole-grade sharing are Dec. 12 for North Kossuth and Dec. 15 for Armstrong-Ringsted.