IVANHOE - They went into the meeting with one goal, and came out with another. But the challenge facing Ivanhoe School District officials is no smaller than before: consolidate with Hendricks by November, or end a 20-year partnership.
A large crowd gathered in the Lincoln Hendricks-Ivanhoe High School gymnasium Wednesday night for an emergency meeting of the Ivanhoe School Board. Ivanhoe board chairman Steve Citterman said the purpose of the meeting was to determine whether Ivanhoe should become a K-12 district.
After hearing comments from the public during a heated three-hour meeting, the board instead ended by voting 5-1 in favor of a motion to pass a consolidation vote in both Ivanhoe and Hendricks by November, or else go K-12 starting in the 2012-13 school year.
"The consensus of the board was that the public wanted more time," Citterman said of the motion on Thursday.
Lincoln HI Elementary in Hendricks and Lincoln HI High School in Ivanhoe are part of a pairing agreement. While the Hendricks and Ivanhoe School Districts remain two separate entities, each with their own school board and superintendent, they share some faculty and a joint seniority list.
The relationship between the two boards has not been an easy one, especially in the past few years, board members said.
Recently, Citterman said, a combination of events made him question whether Hendricks was really committed to the partnership. Among other reasons, he cited a trend of Hendricks students not attending high school in Ivanhoe, and Hendricks placing two teachers with Ivanhoe contracts on unrequested leave. Citterman said a recent e-mail between Hendricks Superintendent Bruce Houck and Ivanhoe Superintendent Dwayne Strand also indicated Hendricks would not be needing the services of the schools' shared band and music teachers.
"It's very disturbing," Citterman said.
Hendricks school board member Lisa Schmidt rebutted Citterman, saying the staffing decisions were done for budgetary or scheduling reasons. For example, the Ivanhoe district offers its faculty a buyout in lieu of health insurance, while Hendricks offers insurance coverage, Schmidt said. In the case of longtime faculty like sixth-grade teacher Karen Champine, who teaches in Hendricks but is contracted in Ivanhoe, the buyout payments would be too expensive for the Hendricks district.
"This is not out of a desire to not work with the high school," Schmidt said.
Hendricks school board chairman Nick Citterman said students in the Ivanhoe district also open enroll into other districts.
At several points during the meeting, Steve Citterman blamed the disagreements between the districts on Houck.
"We all know where the problems are," Citterman said. In order for the partnership to work, he said, "One particular man has got to leave."
Neither Houck nor Strand were present at Wednesday's meeting, prompting questions from the audience.
Houck told the Independent on Thursday that he was unable to attend the Ivanhoe meeting, because he had to attend the Russell-Tyler-Ruthton School Board meeting that same night. Houck is superintendent at RTR and Lynd as well as Hendricks.
Houck responded to Citterman's comments Thursday.
"I think if you talk to community members in both communities (Hendricks and Ivanhoe), they would say this has been going on as long as the schools have been paired," Houck said. "This is nothing new."
Ivanhoe board members said Strand had been invited to attend the meeting. Citterman said Strand had given the board notice that he would resign this summer, and the current plan is for Ivanhoe Principal Michelle Mortensen to serve as combined superintendent and principal. Mortensen was present at Wednesday's meeting.
Audience members vented their frustrations, sometimes with one school board or the other, more often with the whole situation. Many urged Ivanhoe not to give up the partnership, or suggested combining boards.
Audience member Amy Clarke said she would not support a K-12 school in Ivanhoe.
"I would much prefer we give it another try," she said.
"There should be one board looking out for all the students," another audience member said.
After a five-minute break, the Ivanhoe board returned with a change of plans.
Citterman said the board was going to make a motion "that forces us to meet."
Board member Marty Rost moved that Ivanhoe pursue a consolidation vote with Hendricks, to be passed by November, or else form a K-12 school for the 2012-13 school year. The motion passed 5-1.
Consolidation requires more than just a vote, however. State statutes require school districts to prepare a consolidation plan, including a plan for reducing the current school boards down to a single board of six or seven members, and new voting districts, as well as a proposed plat of the new district. The plans must then be approved by the Minnesota Commissioner of Education.
Consolidating school districts may also end up sharing any debt one of the districts has. Citterman told audience members Wednesday night that if the districts consolidate, Ivanhoe would not be asking Hendricks taxpayers to shoulder the debt for Ivanhoe's recent school renovations.
Houck said he had not yet been informed of the Ivanhoe board's decision when the Independent contacted him Thursday morning.
"It's a very short timeframe," he said of the November consolidation goal. It took the Russell, Tyler and Ruthton school districts two years to consolidate, Houck said.