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Neligh-Oakdale Board of Education members had differing opinions on how to proceed with a possible merger with neighboring school districts.
At Monday’s meeting, the board looked at various options, including a five-, four-, three- and two-school merger but eventually agreed the next step is to seek community input and scheduled a public-input meeting for Monday, Aug. 7 at 7 p.m.
Superintendent Scott Gregory presented enrollment numbers based on five-year averages for a five-, three- and two-school merger. While the board has discussed many different avenues of the possible merger, board member Cory Furstenau said he wanted more information on the current efficiencies of each school. David Wright pointed out that each school has many efficiencies that aren’t accounted for like school repairs.
“Not only are financial issues involved, there are emotional issues involved,” said Wright. “You’ll find that if there is a consolidation of any kind, you can talk about numbers all we want and prove how efficient they are, but you’re going to have to overcome that emotional factor.”
Among the concerns heard on the potential merger was job retention. Donna Keetle, a school staff member in the audience, asked the board about staff cuts if consolidation would occur. Wright told Keetle that question would have to wait until the public meeting, so Furstenau stepped in and asked it himself.
“How many jobs will be lost if we combine (all five schools into) one school?” he asked.
Gregory directed Furstenau to the handout given to board members and the public showing a model of staff numbers for consolidated versus as is for all five schools. According to Gregory’s estimates, more than 30 percent of the teaching and administrative positions would be cut with a five-school merger. His numbers did not address classifieds staff, such as cooks, custodians, bus drivers, etc.
As for administration, Gregory’s numbers called for one superintendent and two principals. Cutting the nearly 60 teaching and administrative positions could save the schools around $5.5 million, according to Gregory.
While cutting teaching jobs, Gregory said he could increase the number para-professionals.
“The para’s under this system would benefit very much because I don’t see much reduction for them. I haven’t looked at maintenance or that kind of area, but from a teaching standpoint, that’s where your main efficiency is. Staffing is 80 or 85 percent of the cost,” he said.
Neligh-Oakdale also discussed dropping to a two-school merger and possibly “absorbing” Clearwater, which was met with resistance from audience members. Several board members said they needed community input before moving forward with a merger of any size.
“Before Neligh-Oakdale does anything, the board has to decide what to do,” Ryan Koinzan said. “You have to be real concrete on what your goals are. ...Because if the board can’t sell it to itself, how can you sell it to the community.”
Originally, board members had said a decision to be “in or out” had to be made by July and later August. Board member Kenny Reinke said he wants to see the timeline slow down and include the community.
“We’re trying to push it too fast in our minds. I don’t think as a group of schools that we’re as far as we think we are,” Reinke said. “There’s a lot more to it than what we’re seeing.”
Ron Gilg agreed and said there are many options for Neligh-Oakdale from staying course as its own school, joining the Nebraska Unified District (Clearwater, Orchard and Verdigre) or merging with other schools. The public, he said, needs to help decide how to proceed.
“What I would like to see at the public meeting is input from the community. The idea of which route they would prefer. Do they want to go alone like we have been, do they want to look at combining with one or two or joining the unified district or do we want to consolidate with as many as we can?” Gilg said.
The board then voted unanimously to hold a public meeting to receive the public’s opinion on the different scenarios presented.