* Large group of community residents have their say
AURELIA - The special School Board meeting held at Aurelia on Monday night was scheduled to take place in a large room in the elementary building, just as the last meeting on Sept. 24 did.
Those plans were revised prior to the meeting, though, as the meeting was moved to the school gymnasium to accommodate an expected large community turnout.
It turned out to be a wise choice, as approximately 60 visitors were there. Following the agenda for the meeting, visitors were asked if anyone had comments they would like to address to the Board. When several people raised their hands in response, Board President Dan Winterhof told speakers that they would be given a microphone to allow all present to hear their comments, and also he would like to see them try to limit their comments to no more than five minutes, to allow everyone time to speak.
One speaker mentioned that number of signatures on the petition to share with Alta had grown to 304, with only six respondents who indicated that they are not interested in sharing with Alta.
Other concerns were expressed over a perception by some people that a post-secondary option for Aurelia students would only be available if Aurelia shared with Cherokee, pointing out that many Alta students have chosen this option, available through the Storm Lake campus of Iowa Central Community College.
Figures were also presented which showed a lower median age for Alta residents and a higher number of new homes built in Alta in recent years. The source for these quoted figures was not provided. One speaker hoped that the Aurelia Board will go through a negotiating process when talking with other districts, rather than just accept what's offered to them.
A statement was also made that it seems that many people are opposed to sharing with Alta based solely on a past history of negative experiences in the Alta-Aurelia relationship, and the Aurelia Board was urged to go forward from here and think about the future of the Aurelia students rather than dwell on the past.
Several speakers pointed out that the Aurelia and Alta middle schoolers have been playing football together for the last few years, had forged strong friendships, and welcomed further sharing between the two districts, terming a decision to go with Alta a "no-brainer."
One dissenting speaker said that he personally did not feel that a Board decision to choose sharing with the Alta District was a "no-brainer," adding that he has "real problems with the Alta district building a new facility" when Aurelia has facilities which are "more than capable" of handling more students.
Other speakers said they wished they had more information about sharing so that they could figure out which is the "right way to go" in making a sharing decision, and the Board pointed out that the school has developed a new web site and is making a point to keep the community informed and up-to-date via that source. They also noted that the Board Meeting agendas will also now be on the site.
Two women in the crowd said that they felt that the Cherokee district had not made any changes to their sharing proposal since the original 2007 proposal and wondered "If the (2007) proposal was so great then and we didn't take it, why should we take it now?"
With that, Board President Dan Winterhof thanked the visitors for their input, and said all comments made at that meeting, as well as at earlier meetings, will be taken into account when the Board ultimately decides which way the District should go.
President Winterhof then called the "new business" portion of the meeting to order, and the Board discussed what their next steps in the process should be. Very few people in the crowd left the meeting at that point, anxious to hear what the Board members' thoughts were and what that next step would be.
All five Board members - Brad Rohwer, Paul Pingel, Colby Entriken, Jen Kaskey and Dan Winterhof - were present, and each was asked what questions they would like answered at future meetings with other Districts. One consensus question Board members had concerned the length of any proposed sharing agreement. Superintendent Lynn Evans advised not agreeing on anything longer than a 5-year agreement, since the future of education beyond that is very difficult to predict.
The Aurelia Board members also definitely want to see more exact, specific language regarding such issues as teacher sharing and hiring and the use of Aurelia facilities in any negotiations. Anther question for the Alta District would be what the makeup of their proposed Middle School would be, as far as which grades would be considered as Middle School (Alta currently has a 6-7-8 MS and Aurelia's is a 5-6-7-8), and whether the shared MS teachers would be current Alta teachers, current Aurelia teachers, or a combination of the two.
Another concern - though Evans expressed his personal feeling that it should not be a "deal breaker" if everything else looks good - is the inclusion of the Aurelia identity in the school name.
The present Cherokee proposal is Washington High School, Cherokee/Aurelia, but that is not set in stone, and is open for discussion, according to the Cherokee CSD. The Alta proposal for possible names has yet to be identified.
Another concern the Board expressed was an agreement regarding extra-curricular activities, as regards sharing staff and/or sites. Board members also said they felt they should verify the various student test scores which have been brought up by interested community members.
The Board's next step will be to arrange a meeting between Aurelia Board members Rohwer and Winterhof and two Alta District Board members to iron out an exact sharing proposal. They will then bring the proposal back to the Aurelia Board for discussion. Rohwer and Winterhof will also have a similar meeting with two Cherokee Board members and report back to the Aurelia Board.
Superintendent Evans was asked to arrange that these meetings take place as soon as possible, and certainly no later than the scheduled monthly Aurelia Board meeting on November 9. Special meetings may well need to be a part of the process.
The next regularly scheduled Aurelia School Board meeting will be Monday, October 12, at 6:30 p.m.