Officials with the Green Hills Area Education Agency have approved a vote on consolidating the AHST and Walnut community school districts during the September school board elections. The Daily NonPareil reports residents of Avoca, Hancock, Shelby, Tennant and Walnut will be able to vote Sept. 8th on merging into one school district, potentially finishing a process of coming together that began in 2012 with partial-day sharing and combined athletics.
Two objections were filed with the AEA, both by Ardythe and Neal Smith of Walnut, who own two properties within the Walnut school district. One of the properties is split with 160 acres in the Harlan school district and 80 acres in Walnut, and the Smiths asked for the entire property to be made part of Harlan, which is where they said they do their shopping and receive professional services.
The board voted 7-0 to approve the petition without any additional discussion. Walnut, which has been an independent school district for 143-years, was last reorganized back in the 1950s. AHST was created in 1995 during a reorganization. Walnut has been whole-grade sharing its secondary students since 2014 with AHST while maintaining its Walnut Community School for elementary students.
The Green Hills AEA board received petitions with 222 signatures from Walnut and 501 from AHST, which exceeded the requirements to move forward with the proposal. The Walnut district is roughly a third the size of the AHST district, with a combined enrollment of 770 students. Under the proposal, the reorganized AHSTW school board would be made up of two members of the Walnut board and five of the AHST board. The board would then create five districts and have two members elected at large, which would allow for balanced representation of AHSTW’s territory.
Voters will also be asked to approve a revenue purpose statement, aligning funding for the new district to avoid another special election if the reorganization is approved in September. The districts’ shared Superintendent Jessie Ulrich, said the reorganization, if it’s approved, would mean lower taxes for AHSTW residents. With the incentives provided by the state, he said a $2 per $1,000 of taxable valuation reduction in taxes in the near term would be possible.