ARMSTRONG - The Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency Board of Directors in a Wednesday night public hearing accepted reorganization petitions and approved a June 25 date for a vote on reorganization of the Armstrong-Ringsted and Sentral school districts.
While it was officially a Prairie Lakes AEA hearing - with the Armstrong gym as the site - AEA board members in Pocahontas and other locations participated in the hearing via the Web.
In addition to A-R superintendent Matt Berninghaus and Sentral superintendent Art Pixler, several members of both school boards and audience members were present with a total of probably a couple dozen attending in Armstrong which, with no audience objections to the reorganization plan, lasted just 35 minutes.
Armstrong-Ringsted and Sentral school district principals Matt Berninghaus and Art Pixler made the districts’ cases known for reorganization at a public hearing Wednesday night at the A-R High School gym in Armstrong. Convening the Web-based hearing was the Prairie Lakes AEA Board of Directors.
EDN photo by Michael Tidemann
Attorney Rick Engel, who is representing both A-R and Sentral in their reorganization efforts, said Wednesday night's meeting was to determine if the vote could proceed and that the AEA board would take action on that motion.
Engel noted the reorganization petition states that the current territories served by the two districts will be combined into North Union School District. Engel also noted that the districts are currently in a three-way whole-grade-sharing agreement with North Kossuth as North Union School. The A-R and Sentral reorganization, which would become known at North Union School District, would presumably whole-grade share with North Kossuth with possible later consolidation.
Engel noted A-R had slid below 300 enrollment to 298 and Sentral was at 149, and that the reorganization would conform to Sentral's reorganization plan which includes A-R. Engel said the new five-member North Union School District School Board would include three members from the current A-R district and two from Sentral.
Engel said assets and liabilities would be merged except for existing general obligation bond indebtedness.
In making Sentral's case to the AEA board for reorganization, Pixler noted enrollment was down by 181.9 students since 2000 and Sentral's unspent authority had slipped to $15,555 at the end of the 2012 fiscal year.
"The number of kids you have in the seats relates to money," Pixler said of state aid.
After cutting staff from 26 in 1999-2000 to 23 in 2006-07, Pixler said he had given an "admonition to the board that cutting at the high-school level was through." Pixler noted that Sentral also shared some staff with other districts.
Pixler noted that in 2007-08 U.S. News and World Report recognized Sentral as one of the best high schools in the U.S., and it was the next year that Sentral began whole-grade sharing with North Kossuth. Under the current three-way whole-grade-sharing agreement, Sentral maintains an enrollment of 155.2 students, Pixler said, with 20 teaching staff, six of whom were added when Sentral took on A-R's pre-K through elementary students. He said the enrollment estimate for 2014 was 149.1, and in closing asked for the AEA's support of the proposed reorganization.
In his presentation, Berninghaus noted students were down 111 students since 2000. While the district unspent balance had gone up and down, Berninghaus said the ballance was up again due to reduced expenses, whole-grade sharing, state supplemental weighting and staff and operations sharing. He said A-R has had sharing agreements for several years with both Sentral and North Kossuth as well as other districts.
Sharing benefits Berninghaus noted were increased educational programs, sports opportunities, fine arts, clubs and organizations and campus improvements, including technology integration that includes an iPad for every high-school student.
He said moving beyond the current whole-grade sharing agreement would provide long-term stability and planning, added land base, more efficiency, increased educational opportunities and increased state incentives.
Engel praised both superintendents for their presentations and the AEA found no objections from the audience or questions from its board members.
The AEA board then approved June 25 as the election date for reorganization and to authorize signing of the reorganization petitions.