Clearwater and Ewing took a step toward a two-school merger last week and set a timeline for an early 2019 vote to consolidate.
Both boards unanimously passed a motion to hire Craig Pease and Bob Uhing to begin the two-school feasibility study with anticipation of receiving the study by Nov. 30. The timeline discussed included setting individual town hall meetings in December with a vote by the boards in January to set a special election for consolidation shortly after.
The Ewing and Clearwater boards of education met for about 80 minutes last Wednesday in the Ewing band room to discuss future school options. The meeting was two weeks after Ewing requested a similar meeting with Orchard.
Orchard's Advisory Board met about three hours prior to the meeting between Clearwater and Ewing and instructed Superintendent Dale Martin to tell both boards that Orchard was interested in joining the feasibility study. For more details on that meeting, click here.
After much discussion, Ewing Superintendent Ted Hillman told the boards he supported moving forward with the two schools.
“You need to do the two-school item to put the others involved, whoever they might be, on notice that you want to go ahead with something, and you are. They can determine if they want to join in later or not. They have decisions to be made, too,” Hillman said. “I guess you need to put your cards on the table.”
Clearwater Principal Mike Sanne agreed and said, “We can’t keep dragging this out. This has been going on for a long time, and we keep pushing it off because of this or that. There’s two groups here.”
Immediately following that statement, Ewing President Mark Ramold asked for a motion to move forward with a study. Pete Funk made the motion with Ed Nordby seconding. Ewing passed the motion unanimously. Clearwater President Amy Thiele then asked for the same motion. Regina Krebs made the motion with Tom Thiele as the second. It was also passed unanimously.
Early into the meeting between Ewing and Clearwater, Funk said the meeting was called to help Clearwater make an educated decision in March on whether they wanted to reunify with Orchard and Verdigre. Amy Thiele said while there had been talk of a three-school merger, it was suggested during that meeting with Orchard that Ewing wanted to pursue a two-school merger with Clearwater.
Sanne said Clearwater has made no secret of its interest in consolidation, especially with a reunification deadline looming. Ewing has repeatedly stated it’s not interested in joining the unification.
“I think you guys all are aware that back in August the Unified Board directed us to have a decision made by March,” Sanne said. “We’re looking to move forward with somebody. We’ve got different options we’re looking at. It’s been no secret our board told me to look at all the options, and basically that included looking at Ewing and looking at Elgin and we’re still talking about possibly reunifying. All options are out there for us, and we’re looking to find the best option for our kids 20 or 30 years down the road.”
Funk said his Plan A was a three-school merger between Ewing, Clearwater and Orchard, but “you go with maybe who’ll go with you.” Clearwater’s Joe Thiele asked, “So if Clearwater’s prepared to consolidate with you, you guys are prepared to do the same?”
Funk immediately said he was, and Ramold said Ewing would establish a timeline toward that. Joe Thiele asked if Ewing needed more information first, and Funk said yes, adding “it would be nice to know what the budget’s going look like. It would be a lot easier to have that information to sell it.”
Although the action taken included a study between only Ewing and Clearwater, much of the public participation in the meeting involved having Orchard in the mix. Dustin Wright spoke multiple times about wanting to include Orchard and told board members he was hosting a public forum on Sunday, Oct. 14, at 8 p.m. in the Ewing gym between patrons of the three districts.
He said if people were unable to attend, they could send letters to be read. Wright said a survey would be available at the conclusion of the meeting to give boards an indication of how those attending felt about a three-school merger.
While Sunday’s meeting is open to the public, it has not been publicly advertised as an official board meeting, meaning no more than two Advisory board members or three Original from each school can participate, per state statute § 84-1409.
“We’re hoping a couple board members from each place shows up. People kind of address their concerns, worries, what they’re thinking moving forward if anybody’s got the balls to stand up and say something,” Wright said.
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