Editor's Note: Video of the meeting is at the end of the story. The video is broken into three parts. All devices offer different volume levels, so we suggest using ear buds or headphones to best hear the video.
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The three-school merger’s on-again, off-again relationship appears to be back on despite more board members questioning what the next steps should be.
Wednesday’s nearly three-hour meeting in Clearwater included passed motions, a failed motion and a rescinded motion. While approvals eventually did happen, at one point in the meeting, Neligh-Oakdale voted to move on in merger plans without Ewing.
About a dozen people attended the meeting, besides the board members and administrators from the three schools.
After talks on hiring a curriculum consultant, Ewing voted against the hiring 2-4. Pete Funk made the motion to hire the consultant with Jason Schindler seconding. In a turn of events, Funk, Schindler, Jeremy Wagner and Tim Larson all voted against the hiring. Ed Nordby and Mark Ramold were the lone Ewing members to vote in favor.
Members from both Neligh-Oakdale and Clearwater boards were visibly stunned as they looked at each other but sat silently until Clearwater President Amy Thiele broke the silence by asking “the elephant in the room” question.
“So, you don’t want to hire either one? So, does that mean that Ewing does not want to go forward at this point and time? What are your intentions from here? What are you thinking? Do you want to get more proposals from people?” she asked.
But Ewing members remained silent.
Thiele continued to ask Ewing board members several more times for explanation, but no one spoke. Even Ramold told his board, “I’m open to any comments.”
Considering both Clearwater and Neligh-Oakdale had approved the hiring, the boards questioned how to move forward. Neligh-Oakdale’s Ryan Koinzan then suggested merger talks continue with just Neligh-Oakdale and Clearwater.
“If Ewing is not interested in this consulting agreement with Dr. Uhing and Dr. Pease, and they have indicated that and have had no verbal comments,” he said. “I would make a motion, so there is no need of Neligh and Clearwater and Ewing to be part of the study. And I would make a motion for Dr. Uhing and Dr. Pease to look into this — the schools of Neligh-Oakdale and Clearwater.”
Cory Furstenau seconded Koinzan’s motion, which passed unanimously. With tension rising between the boards, a brief recess was called.
After the meeting reconvened, Ramold asked his fellow board members from Ewing to reconsider pulling out of talks and revote. Just like before, Funk made the motion to hire the consultant with Schindler seconding. This time around, the vote passed 4-2 with Larson and Schindler casting the votes against.
Schindler and Larson both said they voted against the hiring of curriculum consultants Dr. Craig Pease and Dr. Bob Uhing because they wanted more answers before spending tax dollars. Schindler said he felt the public would be against the merger at this point.
“I guess my only thoughts with this is if this was put before our public tonight, it wouldn’t pass. It’s just wasting money,” Schindler said. “We don’t have enough answers yet. I know that’s what we’re working to do. I haven’t talked to a lot of patrons who are for this at all and there are a handful that might be, but the majority are not.
Larson said he voted no was because he was unsure of what the information provided would entail. He explained that although the other proposal costs more, he believes looking more into it might promise that the board was getting the best information based on how much they would be paying.
“Beyond these guys, what would it cost? To find that step, and the next step? Would that be another extra $40,000? I really need some more information to make a good decision,” Larson said.
Neligh-Oakdale then rescinded its motion to move on without Ewing.
With a curriculum consultant now hired, the boards moved onto the construction phase of merger talks. Clearwater unanimously was in favor of the request for proposal (RFP) from design firm services.
But Ewing and Neligh-Oakdale both faced differing opinions amongst board members. Ewing approved the RFP 5-1 while Neligh-Oakdale’s passed 4-2.
During discussions for design firm services, Koinzan compared the merger talks to “old fashioned” dating and suggested talks needed to slow down.
“We’ve had some controversy. And give us some time to digest this. I’m kind of old fashioned. I like to take things slow. Make good decisions. And right now, I’m trying to decide as a board member if I wanna go on a date or not. And I’ve got some people telling me, that want to go on a date with me, what the color of carpet is going to be. And I’d just like to slow down a little bit,” Koinzan said.
Despite much concern from both Koinzan and Furstenau, Neligh-Oakdale and Clearwater Presidents David Wright and Amy Thiele reassured the two that they were simply reaching out for requests and that a decision on a proposal was not immediately necessary.
The meeting adjourned at 9:41 p.m. The next three-board meeting will be in Ewing at an unknown date and time.