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With talks of consolidation constantly on the mind, Neligh-Oakdale stakeholders met at the school gym Monday for an informational town hall meeting.
The town hall served as a fact-finding meeting for not only the citizens, parents, former students, teacher and administrators in attendance, but also for the board itself as it aims to find concerns and desires of the community. The meeting started with many questions on both sides. Some were answered while many remain.
Superintendent Scott Gregory gave those in attendance a synopsis of what they knew already to start the meeting before the floor was opened for questions and comments. Among the first to voice their opinion was 2016 Neligh-Oakdale graduate Bryce Frey. Frey spoke of the added educational opportunities such a consolidation can provide.
“You can’t have some of these other teachers, these career academies, these classes that prepare people for college, for jobs for the real world, if you don’t have the financial resources and the students to be able to take those classes,” Frey said. “So while small schools do have a lot of benefits, when you’re too small, you start to hurt the students that you’re supposed to be serving.”
For superintendent Bill Kuester and former Nebraska Unified board member Gordon Schrader were both in attendance and spoke of the benefits of looking into potential consolidation.
However, not everyone in attendance was enthusiastically for consolidation. Many in attendance had questions, ranging from location to timeline to educational opportunities, such as was the case for Angie Belitz.
She made it clear she was still forming her opinion on the matter and was looking for more information. After asking for comparisons to other schools in the area that have attempted consolidation in the past, she turned her focus to the opportunities available for her children. She questioned what the consolidation would do for the opportunities of students to choose electives that fit their desires.
“I think that decision would have to be something that we would have to hear back from parents,” responded Gregory. “Do you want more classes or do you want more offerings throughout the day? In that discussion I’d bring in the guidance counselor as well and say ‘To the best extent possible…how can we make that as simple and as best as we can?’ ”
The potential location of a school, a topic that has been the focal point of much discussion since talks arose, was discussed between the board and those in attendance. However, the only answer was that there is no answer. The board, along with Gregory, repeatedly reiterated that no site had been decided on at this time, but one would have to be decided on before the school bond was set to vote. Therefore, the voters would have a clear idea of all concepts involved in the new school, including location.
With the potential new district stretching near the Ewing/Inman weigh station to the Antelope/Pierce County border, the middle would be located near Morrison Farms on the Royal Road, according to the board.
“Each community votes…and that would be a thing the boards would have to agree on,” Gregory said in response to a question on how the location of a school would be decided.
Other points of concern for the community members in attendance were the status of the current facilities if a new school were to be built, the potential staffing changes and what would happen if additional schools showed interest in joining the consolidation.
The members of the board noted that, if consolidation were to happen and a bond were approved, it would be important to build the school with the intent to hold the maximum amount of students, rather than the minimum.
“I don’t know that you stand up and say we don’t want you to come because if you remember that first five-district (school) when we were talking about it, that was $2.4 billion,” said board president Dave Wright. “So if someone comes knocking on my door with $400 billion, I’m probably going to say, ‘Would you like to come in?’"