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Patrons were given a look last week into how a merger between Ewing and Clearwater could function thanks to a summary report on a feasibility study between the two schools.
Dr. Craig Pease and Dr. Bob Uhing spoke to both boards, along with Orchard, during last Wednesday’s joint board meeting between the three schools. Also at the meeting were representatives from First National Capital Markets, who discussed the process of a merger.
Clearwater and Ewing were described as complimentary school districts with similar land values and size, along with being “not an unreasonable distance for traveling back and forth on a good highway.”
The study showed elementary grades would be between 14-25 with enrollment expected to stay the same or slightly decrease through 2022-23. Total enrollment for the two schools in 2020-21 was predicted to be 280 students PK-12, which was said to be comparable to a district the size of Creighton.
As far as curriculum, the combination of the schools could allow for an expanded career pathways thanks to multiple staff positions in technical areas. It was pointed out that by offering SkillsUSA, which Clearwater currently does, and FFA, then the new district would meet Rule 47, which requires specific offerings.
To be more efficient as a new district, the feasibility study indicated the staff could decrease by eight full-time teachers if the two schools merged. A merger could save the two schools about $800,000, primarily due to the reduction of staff. The study recommended two sites, one for PK-6 and a second for 7-12.
The study indicated the predicted budget would require a necessary levy of .6103; however, Pease and Uhing said the levy would actually be higher than that since Clearwater’s data was from the Nebraska Unified District at one-third percentage. Ewing’s total levy is currently .733 while Clearwater’s was listed at .661.
Pease and Uhing are working on multiple feasibility studies for the three schools, along with Verdigre. The rest of the studies will be presented on Wednesday, Jan. 30, at 6:30 p.m. in Orchard. A snow date for that meeting was set for February 6.
Tobin Buchanan and Craig Jones of First National Capital Market also spoke to the boards about the financial aspect of constructing a new school through a bond. Buchanan said he didn’t feel comfortable estimating fees for their services since the process is still in the early stages.
When asked what is needed for a successful bond, Buchanan recommended having an construction manager, architect and financial firm. Clearwater board member Brian King said his school is looking for someone to take point, mediate and lead them through the project.
“We’re at this point where we don’t really know what to do,” King said.
After much discussion, including asking if First National Capital Markets would consider serving as consultants for the project, neither Buchanan nor Jones would commit, saying it was early in the project and discussion and they needed more time for discussions before suggesting a fee or even if they were interested.
Board members continued to ask questions about successful merger projects, and both men said they’d never seen a three-school merger reach a bond vote.
“More often than not, this phase fizzles and doesn’t get to the vote. Talks end here and never gets to the point to the vote,” Jones said.
More common, they said, was consolidation first with multiple buildings and constructing a new building at a later time.
Board members invited the representatives to attend the Jan. 30 meeting to hear the results of the other feasibility study, and they both agreed.