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The bleachers were nearly empty last Wednesday night for the historic first multi-board meeting to discuss how to move forward with a potential three-school merger between Neligh-Oakdale, Ewing and Clearwater.
Less than three dozen people sat in the Neligh-Oakdale bleachers. Will Jones of the Nebraska Association of School Boards facilitated. The joint meeting began with a review of subcommittee meetings, along with presentations on building needs and curriculum.
While the night ended with an interlocal agreement for the three schools to split costs associated with researching a potential merger, the agreement was approved on Neligh-Oakdale’s terms.
After unanimously passing the agreement, both Ewing and Clearwater were forced to amend earlier approvals to match Neligh-Oakdale’s, which passed its motion 4-2 even after the changes. Ryan Koinzan and Cory Furstenau cast the lone votes against the agreement.
Neligh-Oakdale was the third board to vote on the agreement. During its discussion, Koinzan and Furstenau asked for clarification on the language of the document, specifically on how district money would be spent and who has the authority to make decisions.
“Do we have any idea on the parameters of the amount of money we are going to spend or is proposed? Or who decides how the money is spent?” Koinzan asked. “Does one board have the authority to make it into an agreement to bill the other two boards? If one board disagrees, how do you ratify those types of things?”
Thiele said the agreement states that the district will chose the representatives to make those decisions. Koinzan then asked how many representatives from each district would make those decisions.
Thiele said the number was not specified. She also said the amount spent is yet to be determined since there would be a bidding process.
“So the boards decide or do the agents selected to be on this committee?” Koinzan asked.
Regina Krebs said eventually the boards would decide, so the hiring of all agents “would be a consolidated board issue and topic.”
Koinzan then read the document out loud, including the items listed as optional. He said, “I’m no lawyer, but if you don’t include the optional part, the people designated representatives can make a decision and these boards are responsible for it.”
Thiele said she did not read the document the same way as Koinzan. Her understanding was not that these representatives can hire an architect, but that representatives could pay the bills.
Furstenau said he would not approve the document as stated in the motion. “The only way I will approve this is with the approval of the boards of education of each district. Right now it’s highlighted as optional,” he said.
Furstenau then questioned who the fiscal agent would be and asked if he could speak to attorneys who created the interlocal agreement. Neligh-Oakdale Superintendent Scott Gregory said typically the superintendents of each district service in that capacity; however, with a potential conflict of interest with Dale Martin as superintendent of the Nebraska Unified District, Clearwater Principal Mike Sanne may fill that void.
Neligh-Oakdale president David Wright moved on to voting on the interlocal agreement, and Furstenau asked again for clarification as to what the original motion stated. The boards discussed the language again and Furstenau asked to amend the motion to name the district representative and eliminate the fiscal agent.
Neligh-Oakdale then voted on amending the motion, which passed 4-2 with Wright and Koinzan voting against amendment. Neligh-Oakdale then voted on approving the interlocal agreement with the stated amendments, which passed 4-2 with voting Koinzan and Furstenau voting against.
Clearwater and Ewing unanimously voted to approve the interlocal agreements with the same amendments as approved by Neligh-Oakdale.
Before any action was made on the interlocal agreement, the three boards made a point to discuss possible curriculum with a presentation from Neligh-Oakdale’s school counselor April Knust. Within the presentation, the board was given multiple informational sheets showing how the potential school merger could benefit the growth of each school. The main topic of discussion about the curriculum was rounded around how the three schools could implement the Nebraska career education Model into their classes. Within the career model, the students would be able to focus on their strengths and interests leaning them closer to their futures.
Knust also explained the need for more teachers to open up more options and better learning for the students. She explained that if the three schools were to merge and hire more to the teaching staff, the students would be able to learn from teachers who are specializing in one to three classes instead of the teachers trying to teach a wide range of seven to eight different classes. Along with the specialized teachers, the school would then be able to add more courses to the schedule. Knust explained to the board that for Neligh-Oakdale to benefit from the merger, the adding of staff and courses were necessary.
“The more we limit those offerings, it doesn’t increase the amount of opportunities for our kids,” she said.
The three boards have high hopes to collaborate each school’s strengths to figure out what would be best for the potential merger. Each stressed the importance of public opinion and how they could present the curriculum to each of their districts for help in the decision-making.
The three school boards plan to tentatively meet again Wednesday, Dec. 6, in Clearwater at 7 p.m.