The Walnut Community School District has officially begun the process of reorganizing with the AHST Community School District. The Daily NonPareil reports the Walnut school board approved beginning the process at its Monday meeting. Superintendent Jesse Ulrich says circulating a petition to collect signatures from 400 eligible electors or 20 percent of the district’s registered voters, whichever is smaller, is the first step toward holding a special election, with a reorganization vote taking place in June, 2015.
Walnut already whole-grade shares seventh through 12th grade students with AHST, as well as sharing Ulrich as superintendent. The Green Hills Area Education Agency has recommended Walnut look at reorganization as it and several other smaller districts are “facing a trend of declining enrollment.”
The reorganization process begins with a petition, which has to receive enough support from the community to generate a hearing before the Green Hills Area Education Agency. The AEA board confirms requirements are met and provides an opportunity for residents to object to the proposed combined district.
Iowa requires school special elections to be held on certain dates. According to the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office, opportunities for special elections next summer would include June 30 and Aug. 4.
Ulrich said the district plans to announce details on the reorganization plans today. He said reorganization is a community action – not a board action – so while the AHST school board will mutually consent to the petition and can support the petition, the board itself is not involved in the process.
While Walnut has maintained an independent school district for the past 142 years, it’s likely the 2015-16 school year would be its last. The Walnut district saw the largest enrollment decline in the state – a 25-percent plummet – over the past five years, Ulrich said. Ulrich wrote that reorganization would keep representation for Walnut on a new combined school board, allowing Walnut residents to continue to have a voice in educational decisions. He said in an interview Wednesday that he does not expect the reorganization will meet with much resistance.
However, the name of a consolidated district could prompt some debate, Ulrich said. The district currently calls its secondary facilities AHSTW as a nod to the grade sharing. Two other southwest Iowa school districts are currently asking voters to approve a reorganization. Voters in Hamburg and Farragut will decide Dec. 2 whether to approve a merger forming the Nishnabotna Community School District.
Last year, the Elk Horn-Kimballton and Exira school districts came together. The Iowa Department of Education lists six other districts that consolidated and one that was dissolved last year. Other than Exira-Elk Horn-Kimballton, the last merger of local districts was in 2011 when Nishna Valley and Malvern formed the East Mills Community School District. That year also saw Manning and IKM (Irwin, Kirkman and Manilla) form IKM-Manning and C&M (Cumberland and Massena) and Anita form CAM.