Sharing concerns

BURNSIDE – The Southeast Webster Grand Community School District board approved Wednesday to publicly announce its intention to negotiate a whole-grade sharing system with Prairie Valley Community School District.

Prairie Valley Tuesday approved a similar action regarding SWG at its regular board meeting.

More than 75 people attended the SWG board meeting to voice their concerns about the agenda item.

Rob Scott, SWG sharing committee member, emphasized this does not mean the districts are taking any actions, only starting discussions.

“This motion does not mean we’re absolutely going to do this,” Scott said. “This is just a motion that we’re going to negotiate.”

SWG and Prairie Valley already have a two-way, whole-grade sharing agreement for agriculture, chemistry, physics, and SWG shares its U.S. history teacher. The districts would be negotiating to share teachers for several more courses, including advanced math.

Todd Lundgren, SWG sharing committee member, explained that this would not be until the 2014 school year, and only for grades five through12. He reiterated that no actions have or were being taken.

“Up to this point, we’re just talking,” Lundgren said. “Being friends is not a bad thing. They’re very similar to us. The demographics are similar. We want the same things.”

Launi Dane, superintendent for both SWG and Prairie Valley, said sharing teachers is a better use of both districts’ resources.

“This is a conversation this board has had for several years,” she said. “I don’t believe we’re using our teachers to the best of our ability. Our classes are very small. We’re losing the opportunity for classes.”

Also, with both districts seeing decreasing enrollment – SWG had 16 fewer students this year, worth more than $100,000 in state funding – this would generate greater state funds.

“I don’t want this district to struggle,” Dane said. “I have seen districts struggle and it is sad.”

Grant Gibbons, SWG board president, said whole-grade sharing is an economic necessity.

“I’ve read on Facebook, who needs them?” he said, referring to Prairie Valley. “We don’t have a full-time music teacher anymore. We don’t have a librarian. We’ve made cuts. There’s going to be more cuts. If we share our resources, we gain things.”

Emily Clausen, a SWG board member, spoke against grade sharing.

“How did this happen?” she asked. “I don’t know that this is a good idea. I don’t have a big vision of our future, but I don’t know that whole-grade sharing is the right answer.”

Joni Reiling, a parent, said that while she wasn’t against grade sharing, she thought the board was acting too quickly.

“I ask that we step back and put together a plan. I want parents, patrons and staff to have a voice in this and not be told to shut up,” she said. “I want to be part of the plan.”

Tyler Johnson, another parent, was concerned about the suddenness of the agenda item, though no action had been taken yet. He said he wanted to see more financial data and information about the benefits of grade sharing.

“This does seem like a kneejerk reaction. If they’re not financially flat, why are they reaching out to us?” he said. “The biggest thing for me is not having something in front of me to look at. I want to see a lot of studies. I want to see numbers.”

Dane explained the monetary benefits of grade sharing.

“Whole-grade means you get more money for sharing students and we get to count teachers that are shared,” she said. “Sharing a teacher equals 2.5 students, that’s $15,000. Sharing me was counted as 10 students. That’s $50,000.”

The SWG board approved 6-1 to publicly announce its intention to negotiate with Prairie Valley for a whole-grade sharing system.

Clausen voted against the motion.

Gibbons reiterated that approving the agenda item did not mean an action was being taken.

“We don’t have a plan. We’re formulating a plan,” Gibbons said. “It’s just to negotiate. We’ll have public meetings. We’ll formulate a plan, probably modify it.”