AURELIA - The Aurelia School Board held a special meeting Thursday evening to discuss the progress of ongoing sharing talks with the Alta and Cherokee School Districts, and once again, community interest was such that the location of the meeting had to be moved to the school gym. The group filled about one-half of the bleacher seating.
Patrons who chose to do so were given some time at the beginning of the meeting to make comments. Speakers included both current and former Aurelia teachers and coaches, several people who had grown up in Alta and now reside in Aurelia, and a representative from the group which has circulated a petition supporting whole-grade sharing with the Alta District.
All of the speakers commended the School Board members for the work they have done thus far, and said they were to be "respected and commended" for putting in the time and effort they have before they make their "historic" and "excruciating" decision about the future of the Aurelia School District.
The representative of the petitioning group, who have also had a presence at two previous meetings, said that they now had more than 350 signatures and a dozen verbal agreements, and also cited the recent unscientific poll in the Chronicle Times, which showed 78% of respondents favoring the Alta agreement.
Other speaker comments included: "The interest of the kids is the most important" item to be considered; "It's great going to a school where you know all your classmates;" praise for the Aurelia teachers from a new resident of the community whose daughter's grades and positive feelings about going to school have risen dramatically since enrolling at Aurelia ; comments from a former Aurelia student who says she and her classmates, though separated by miles, remainl a close-knit "community," keep in touch, and do even do things for one another when a classmate or their family is experiencing hardship.
Speakers urged the Board to make a decision as soon as possible - preferably that evening - to ease tension and anxiety among students and their families. It was also stated by one speaker that families with young children should certainly have their voices heard, as they would be the ones most affected.
With that, Board President Dan Winterhof thanked the speakers for their comments, saying that the passion in the air was obvious and admirable. He and Board member Brad Rohwer then talked about the meetings that they, Aurelia Superintendent Lynn Evans, Principal Ann Sandine and Board Secretary Vicki Kolpin had on Oct. 13 with a similar group from the Cherokee District and on Oct. 14th with a similar group representing the Alta District.
Both groups were very cordial and receptive to the Aurelia group, but neither group offered much change in the proposals they had previously offered, reported Rohwer.
Both groups were agreeable to the Aurelia Board's request for a five-year agreement; Cherokee said they could make no promises regarding staffing, citing the collective bargaining process as making it difficult to make such promises. Cherokee was not opposed to changing the name of the High School to something like 'Washington High School of Cherokee and Aurelia,' and Alta saw no problem with naming the shared portions of the school (MS and HS) 'Alta-Aurelia,' with team mascots and colors to be determined later. Both districts were also open to sharing positions such as Transportation Director, Technology Director, and Vocational instructors. The Alta District felt it would be "prudent" to keep all current staff members upon transitioning, and keeping the current Aurelia teachers at the Aurelia site and Alta teachers in Alta as much as possible, so that the teachers and students wouldn't have to be transitioning at the same time.
Cherokee had no objection to possibly playing some athletic contests in Aurelia, and the Alta Board felt that Middle School events should be held in Aurelia and High School events in Alta, with some possible sharing of events during the initial years of transition. Alta was also open to the possibility of "Co-Coaches" for some athletic teams, and clarified that the grades they considered to be "Middle School," who would be attending classes in Aurelia under their proposal, would be grades 6, 7, and 8.
Board members then stated their opinions on this latest round of offers. Rohwer stated that he was happy with the talks with Alta, feeling that their proposals "felt more like a merger than an acquisition," and he thanked the Alta Board for the patience they've shown as Aurelia makes their decision, as the Alta district has put their building plans on hold pending the Aurelia decision. Rohwer expressed his opinion that he felt the Board should decide that evening to proceed with discussions with the Alta District on a two-way sharing agreement - a statement which drew an enthusiastic response from the crowd.
Other Board members were not quite as certain in their comments, and in the end, Superintendent Evans asked all Board members to notify him when they had made their own personal decision about which way to go. When all members have contacted him, Evans will schedule a meeting at which the Board will vote on the sharing direction. That meeting may possibly be the scheduled monthly meeting on November 9, or even possibly an earlier date.
Board President Winterhof cited three things which he feels the Board needs to take into consideration when figuring out a timetable for the sharing agreement. These things are (in order of importance): 1. They need to consider the proposed building plans of the Alta District; 2. They need to make their informed decision as soon as possible, so that the community, including students, can have a little more peace of mind, knowing the decision has been made; and 3) the IHSAA re-figures the districts for Iowa high school football every two years, and they will do this again on December 1. Since a sharing agreement may affect both Aurelia and the school district with which they sign an agreement, it would be ideal to make Aurelia's intentions known before that date.
The meeting was then adjourned, with the President again thanking everyone for their input.
When asked after the meeting if the Board vote, when it comes, would need to be unanimous, consensus, or a simple majority, Evans replied that though he hopes the vote will not be "split," by law the sharing agreement would only require a simple majority vote, with three of the five Board members voting yes.