The Green Hills Area Education Agency will join the school boards from Nishna Valley and Malvern for a public hearing on Sept. 1 that could decide the future of the two districts that entered into a whole-grade sharing agreement nearly four years ago.
Up for discussion at the meeting, which will be held at 7 p.m. at the Indian Creek Museum, will be whether to continue the two districts’ whole-grade sharing agreement or to formally reorganize as one school district. Under the current five-year agreement the two districts share East Mills High School and East Mills Middle School but have separate elementary schools, school boards, superintendents and budgets.
For the last two years the Reorganization Study Committee, a group of citizens from the two districts tasked with making a recommendation for the two district’s next step, gathered data and held public meetings in Malvern and around the Nishna Valley School District. In a May 17 joint board meeting between the two districts, the committee recommended moving forward with the legal process necessary to reorganize the two districts into one new district.
Since May the committee has gathered 657 signatures in support of putting the reorganization to a public vote. If the AEA approves the petition, either as submitted or in an amended version, at the Sept. 1 meeting, the earliest the eorganization vote could be put before voters in the two districts is Dec. 7. For the measure to pass a simple majority must be reached in both districts.
If the measure passes, the reorganization will go into effect next July and the districts will combine as the East Mills Community School District.
Katie Lewis chaired the Reorganization Study Committee over the last two years. She is a 1990 Nishna Valley graduate and husband Brad is a 1987 Malvern grad. They have a child at East Mills Middle School and another at East Mills High School. She said the goal of the committee was to get feedback from everyone in the communities, not just from those that attended the meetings.
“This seems to be the direction we should go and that's why we made the recommendation we did,” said Lewis of the reorganization plan. “This gives the students opportunities with academics and extracurricular activities, whether it’s art or sports, and also it makes our communities stronger together than apart.”
Lewis points to the whole-grade sharing agreement as a primary reason why the reorganization process should go smoother than most, if it passed Dec. 7.
“None of us have a crystal ball, we don't know what the future holds, we just hope people will make the choice that is right for the kids and the community. That's our hope,” Lewis said.
Nishna Valley Superintendent Bill Crilly agrees. He said the whole grade sharing agreement is “mutually beneficial” to each district.
“I think it's been good for our students,” said Crilly, adding there have been as many as 17 additional courses offered to high school students as a direct result of the current deal. “That's really what we're all about in this.”
Curtis Barclay, superintendent of the Malvern School District, has heard mostly positive reviews of the proposed reorganization.
“We wouldn't be operating that much differently as one district,” Barclay said. “I think the fact we've had whole grade sharing for a while it kind of eases the transition. I've heard of a lot of people that are for it but I'm sure there are some people that aren't.
Barclay is of the opinion small school districts, like his own and Nishna Valley, have to look at what is in the best interest for each moving forward in these times of decreasing enrollment and a furthering budget gap.
“There are efficiencies of combining the two districts into one and there's some stability and planning,” said Barclay. “The whole grade sharing that we do now is an agreement between the two districts and we're sort of at each others mercy going forward, either could give notice and pull out at a certain point. If this becomes permanent then that allows us to plan and know the way it will be. But in the end, that will be up to the voters.”