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Looking Like A No-win Situation For East Mills

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By Joe Foreman, Editor

In 2007, I thought the consolidation of the Malvern and Nishna Valley school districts into one East Mills Community School District was a good idea.

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I don’t feel that way anymore.

As an outsider looking in, the Nishna Valley-Malvern marriage appears to be on shaky ground.
Both partners seem to be feeling a lot of dissatisfaction with the relationship. A marriage counselor or psychologist might say the district is experiencing a seven-year itch and my guess is there are residents on both the east and west sides of the district that would like to see the Nishna Valley-Malvern marriage dissolved. Divorce, however, isn’t an option - it’s going to be the East Mills Community School District for the foreseeable future.

What that future entails remains to be seen.

For now, all K-6 students in the district are schooling at Nishna Valley following the closure of Chantry Elementary in Malvern. Middle school and high school students are attending classes in Malvern as part of the district’s short-term plan.

The long-term plan, it seems, will rest in the hands of voters, probably next spring.

The East Mills Board of Education voted unanimously to renovate the current middle school - high school building in Malvern and add on an elementary wing. The catch is the proposal requires voter approval for about $15 million in bond and PPEL (Physical Plant and Equipment Levy) funding.

If the proposal doesn’t fly with voters, the school board said it will consider another option that would have all K-12 students going to Nishna Valley. The second option would require about $3 million in renovations to the Nishna Valley School.

So, at this point, it appears sometime down the road all East Mills students in grades K-12 with be attending classes at either Malvern or Nishna Valley.

Either way, there are going to be hard feelings and the district is very likely to lose students (and state aid dollars). If Malvern gets the school, I foresee some unhappy Nishna Valley parents sending their children to Red Oak or Riverside.

If Nishna Valley gets to have the school, I have no doubt there will be Malvern students moving to Fremont-Mills, Glenwood, Treynor or maybe even Lewis Central.
Opinions vary on how the district got into this situation in the first place, but I suspect there’s blame on both sides.

Remember, not too long before the whole-grade sharing and eventual consolidation took place, Nishna Valley was dealing with some serious financial issues that required the district to return a substantial amount of money back to the state. Some people saw the merger with Malvern as an opportunity to ease Nishna Valley’s financial burden at a time when the district was also paying off debt for some renovations and additions on the NV campus.

Malvern shares in the blame because it’s now apparent the district wasn’t doing an adequate job of maintaining its buildings, most notably Chantry Elementary. The closure of Chantry is a blow to the entire Malvern community. Losing the middle school and high school would be devastating.

I can’t imagine very many people realizing this is what they signed up for when the East Mills Community School District was formed. Hopefully, the board of education will somehow find a solution that residents on both sides of the district can live with, but from an outsider’s view, it sure is looking like a no-win situation.