LINCOLN — It’s official.
The state committee for the reorganization of school districts approved dissolution of Clearwater, Ewing and Orchard Public School districts and the formation of the Summerland school district on Thursday during a 29-minute public hearing at the Nebraska Department of Education in Lincoln.
The reorganization is effective June 6. The plan passed 4-0. Committee member Gerry Osborn was absent.
Nebraska Unified School District 1 Superintendent Dale Martin told the committee discussions took place “off and on for about 20 years” before patrons approved the consolidation in a Nov. 12 election.
According to the superintendent, consolidation has the support of all three communities and current school board members.
“For the most part, everyone in our communities understands it is a positive move for us. It’s a progressive move ... a vehicle that moves us into the future for staff, students and everyone involved,” Martin said.
Ewing Superintendent Ted Hillman agreed with Martin, noting that all three communities have a lot in common.
“This isn’t something that happened overnight,” Hillman said, noting that the Summerland sports co-op proved the concept (of consolidation) would work.
Committee members asked the two administrators and KSB School Law attorney Steve Williams about enrollment size, valuation and staffing.
Martin said projected enrollment numbers show 430 pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students. Valuation of the new district will be about $1 billion, with projected property tax savings, “especially after the bond is paid off,” Martin said.
Resources and staffing will be shared “as much as possible” for the 2020-21 school year, according to Martin.
“There will be some reduction through attrition and possible retirements,” Martin said. “We have a year to work with staffing.”
Committee chairman Dale Fornander asked if educational programs would increase with the reorganization.
“That was a big selling point,” Martin said.
He referenced increasing the agriculture program currently offered through Orchard Public Schools, in addition to enhanced class offerings and career pathways.
Brian Halstead, general counsel for NDE, asked what would happen to the Verdigre district once the unification agreement expires in June.
“They will become a stand-alone district,” Martin said.
Bryce Wilson, with NDE school finance and organization services, said those conversations have already started.
“It’s a tricky situation, but we’ve already had preliminary discussions,” he said.
Steve Williams said the unified board has discussed division of assets.
“Those talks seem to be going well,” he said.
The committee also approved the appointment of short- and long-term Summerland board of education members.
Williams explained the makeup of the new board and process of recommendation.
“Five of the six went very smoothly,” he said. “There was a three-three tie, again and again and again, and they were able to resolve that on Monday.”
Orchard’s original board of education members approved the appointment of Candice Hoke at their Dec. 9 meeting. She will join Nate Schwager, Orchard; Ed Nordby and Jeremy Wagner, Ewing; and Steven Thiele and Marty Kerkman, Clearwater.
Martin said the new board would act as a committee and make recommendations until the Summerland district takes effect June 6.