Rutland School Board members made it clear on Wednesday night that their voice would be heard as they tabled a plan to submit a consolidation plan to the state Department of Education.

Since June, a committee comprised of an equal number of members from the Rutland School District and the Oldham-Ramona School District have been meeting to develop a consolidation plan to submit to the state and ultimately to the voters for approval. The plan received unanimous approval on Monday night from the Oldham-Ramona School Board.

“You’re not voting to approve the plan. You’re voting to send it to the Department of Education,” O-R Superintendent Mike Fischer told his board prior to reviewing the plan and the results of a community survey with board members.

Survey reflects hesitancy

The survey was conducted as part of a series of public meetings held at the end of October. Of the 457 registered voters in the Rutland district, 73 responded, with fewer than half (33) saying they would vote for the consolidation. Another 25 were unsure.

Of the 540 voters in the Oldham-Ramona district, 72 responded to the survey, with 38 or slightly more than half saying they would vote for the consolidation. Another 11 were unsure. A 50% plus one vote in both districts is required for the consolidation to occur.

The survey asked about support for the bond issue in three different ways – comparing the cost to the current opt-outs, noting increased academic opportunities and a new facility, and the simple need to pass the bond in order to build a new facility. In all instances, Rutland voters showed more support for passing a bond than Oldham-Ramona voters.

Overall, the 60% approval needed to pass a bond was not evident. Around 25% of voters in both districts were unsure.

Demographic

information provided

Fischer also provided researched answers to questions asked at the public meetings for which estimates could only be made. Oldham-Ramona has a student enrollment of 145 with 43 students open-enrolled in and 23 open-enrolled out of the district. Rutland has a student enrollment of 190 with 82 students open-enrolled in and 26 open-enrolled out.

“What we found out was that 70% of Oldham-Ramona students live west and north of Ramona. The majority of their students live south and east of Nunda,” Fischer said regarding student saturation, another issue which was raised.

Oldham-Ramona board members asked few questions prior to voting to send the plan to the state DOE. By contrast, Rutland board members held an intense discussion regarding the wording of the plan regarding the location of a new school.

Land valuations impact planning

Board member Brooke Albertson reported the planning committee is deadlocked regarding location with one contingent refusing to consider a location off US-81 and the other refusing to consider a location on US-81.

“We’re at the bottom of the totem pole because we don’t bring as much to the plate,” she reported to Rutland board members.

While Fischer did not phrase the matter in similar language at Monday night’s board meeting, he did take special note of the difference in property valuations between the two districts. Total taxable valuations for the Oldham-Ramona district for 2019 is $308,288,294; total taxable valuations for the Ramona district for 2019 is $211,247,499.

“That’s a big chunk we would be bringing to the new district,” Fischer said, explaining that out of every $1 million levied, $600,000 would come from Oldham-Ramona.

New language requested

Due to the committee deadlock regarding the location, Albertson wanted the language of the plan changed regarding this point. The plan currently reads, “Proposed Attendance Center: To be determined, but forecasting the new school to be on U.S. Highway 81 once built.”

Albertson wants the plan to simply state, “Proposed Attendance Center: To be determined.”

“I don’t think it’s too much to ask,” she said.

In responding to related questions that arose during the course of the discussion, Rutland Principal Brian Brosnahan made three points. First, like Fischer, he noted that the board was not being asked to approve the plan, only to submit it to the state so the process for consolidation could continue.

Second, the location would be selected by a newly-elected school board, not by the committee or either of the existing school boards. The plan proposes a five-member board with two elected from the Oldham-Ramona district, two from the Rutland district and one member at large.

“That’s the only location we have a possibility of right now,” Brosnahan said, regarding a US-81 location, as his third point. He also told board members that the matter did not have to go to a public vote after being approved by the state if a location could not be agreed upon.

‘Petty differences’ pose danger

Board member Ryan Olson did not agree with the majority who supported tabling the issue. He indicated the wording should have been ironed out in committee rather than being raised at a school board meeting after the plan had been recommended for approval.

“I don’t know why Highway 81 is such a sore spot,” Olson said. He pointed out that it would be a decent location with a well-maintained highway for access.

“It should have been done 20 or 30 years ago. If we don’t put our petty differences aside, these school districts are not going to exist,” Olson said.