HENDRICKS - It may have been intended to spark a definite "yes" or "no" answer, but a proposal by the Ivanhoe School Board to consolidate with the Hendricks School District received neither at a special meeting of the Hendricks School Board on Tuesday night. Instead, Hendricks will discuss a different possible timeline for consolidation, which could then be brought back to the Ivanhoe board later this month.
Tuesday's meeting was held at the request of the Ivanhoe School Board, which passed a motion last month to either pass a consolidation vote with Hendricks this November, or become a K-12 school. Hendricks board members expressed reservations with the proposal, especially with its November deadline and possible cost.
"I would like to go ahead, but I'm not comfortable with the November timeline," said Hendricks board member Tom Olson. Other board members echoed his concerns.
Around 40 members of the public attended the meeting, but were told a public forum would not be held that night.
The Hendricks and Ivanhoe school districts do not currently have a joint powers or pairing agreement with each other. However, the two districts do have a long history together, as well as a current tuition agreement. Some teachers have also been contracted by one district to teach in the other.
Part of the Ivanhoe School Board and Lincoln HI High School Principal Michelle Mortensen were present at Tuesday's meeting. Ivanhoe board members said they would like to see Hendricks pass a vote to enter the consolidation planning process with Ivanhoe.
"We don't want to force you into something you feel you're not financially able or not ready to do," said Ivanhoe board chairman Steve Citterman.
However, one thing that would remain firm, he said, was the November deadline to pass a public consolidation vote. If the vote does not happen, or if it does not pass, then Ivanhoe will become a K-12 school district starting in the 2012-2013 school year.
Members of the Ivanhoe board were not able to give a detailed list or timeline of what would be required to pass a consolidation vote. The general process would involve the creation of a consolidation plan, which would then need to be approved by both school boards, the Minnesota State and Education Departments, and taxpayers in both communities. Steve Citterman said a third-party consultant could help the boards draft a consolidation plan.
In order to be part of the general election, the consolidation plan would need to be approved and ready to go to the public by September, said Hendricks board chairman Nick Citterman.
Hendricks board members had other questions. Olson and Nick Citterman wanted to know how the new district would handle the closing of a school building, if it came to that.
"It's a question that's going to be in a lot of people's minds," Olson said.
Board members also wondered how quickly a consolidation plan could be approved by the state, especially if a shutdown happens this summer. Definite answers to that question were not forthcoming at the meeting.
Hendricks Superintendent Bruce Houck was present at the meeting. However, he did not speak much, except in response to questions from board members.
Houck said one factor the school districts need to research is consolidation's cost in reductions to state revenue. Ivanhoe and Hendricks receive money as individual districts that they would not get as a combined district. Everything from community education to Title programs could be affected, he said.
"Having been through this, I can tell you it's more significant than you're ready for," Houck said.
In order to survive after consolidation, the districts may need to pass an excess levy as well.
"That has to be a separate question," Houck said.
The state does offer one-time money per pupil for newly consolidated school districts to help cover costs, Steve Citterman said.
The Hendricks board voted to discuss its own proposal for a consolidation timeline at its next regular meeting, June 16. The idea is that the proposal can be brought to Ivanhoe's regular school board meeting June 27. However, Steve Citterman cautioned that the Ivanhoe board would have to agree to change the timeline.