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A study into how a multi-school consolidation effort impacts its communities is having a big impact on whether or not Neligh-Oakdale continues discussions with neighboring districts.
The study, which hadn’t been publicly announced, garnered lots of attention on Monday after a special meeting was set by Neligh-Oakdale stating possible action “to cease current work on school impact study.”
Among the confusion is who approved the study and who is paying for it.
Gabe Steinmeyer, who was hired in May as Neligh’s new economic development director, said he took it upon himself to complete a study on the consolidation and has been working “a couple hours a week” on it for the last month. He said it will take several more months until it is complete.
Steinmeyer splits his time between economic development for the City of Neligh and Village of Clearwater, which means those municipalities are actually footing the bill for the study. It’s unclear at this point if either municipality had knowledge of the study and was not mentioned during last week's City Council meeting.
Steinmeyer said he wants to see how a multi-school merger would effect Neligh, Clearwater and Ewing since those were the school districts considering the merger and hopes to present "a neutral study."
“I’ve been working on it for a month to gain information and survey the schools,” he said.
Steinmeyer said he sent surveys to Neligh-Oakdale, Clearwater and Ewing. He said the results from Clearwater included information about Orchard, so those results cannot be used since Orchard is no longer involved in the talks.
“We’re looking at other communities and what historically happened when schools left the communities. We'll look at negative impacts on the local economy and positive impacts. It’s so we can make recommendations to help mitigate the risk,” he said.
Besides sending surveys to the schools, Steinmeyer said he has been consulting with a couple of board members on the study. However two of Neligh-Oakdale's board members have since raised issues with the study and will discuss officially ceasing involvement.
Board members Cory Furstenau and Ryan Koinzan called the special meeting for Monday, Sept. 25, at 7 p.m. Also on the agenda is whether the board will “approve or disapprove of continuing further discussions with neighboring districts.”
Neligh-Oakdale Superintendent Scott Gregory said while most meetings are called by either himself or Board President David Wright, policy states that a special meeting can be called when two board members feel it necessary for the entire board to meet on an issue. Gregory said it was felt the meeting could not wait until their usual October date because the merger subcommittees plan to meet Sept. 27 to discuss how to proceed with consolidation.
Gregory said while he has provided Steinmeyer with answers to the survey, he did not instruct or ask Steinmeyer to complete the study. He said while the board may instruct him to no longer participate in the survey, that does not stop Steinmeyer from continuing the study since "he works for the City of Neligh.”
Gregory said he encourages the public to attend Monday’s meeting to provide input on how to proceed.