May 29, 2024

O-M students study the future

Orient-Macksburg High students Kasyn Shinn, Rogue Paxton and Bridget Bracy explain their research Tuesday about the options for the school district's future. Kinsey Eslinger also contributed to the work, but was not in attendance.

Orient-Macksburg High School composition II students agree whole-grade sharing with neighboring Nodaway Valley is the best option for their school’s future as it faces declining enrollment and growing financial strain.

The option was explained Tuesday by students Kasyn Shinn, Rogue Paxton and Bridget Bracy in a presentation for the public. Kinsey Eslinger was also part of the research that took months, but was unable to attend the presentation. The Orient-Macksburg school board, which has met in the past with Nodaway Valley, has scheduled its May 20 meeting to determine the district’s future. In fall 2021, Orient-Macksburg began sharing academics and some sports with Nodaway Valley. High school students are bused to Nodaway Valley for certain classes.

“The main reason that whole-grade sharing comes first before reorganization is because by whole-grade sharing with a school the two groups of students and parents get to know each other before getting ‘married,’” Shinn said using categories of relationships as analogies.

Shinn said the established relationship between the two districts has had benefits.

“We can maintain our own school board and that school board would decide what to do with our facilities and could also advocate for our students and staff. Our staff could be guaranteed some sort of job for at least a year with the new school district and students would still have the choice to attend other schools due to the open enrollment option.” She added that would also give time to the O-M board to “make a lot of hard decisions” regarding O-M facilities and property.

Whole-grade sharing was just one option the students researched and explained.

Paxton spoke about tuition-out. The O-M administration and board would choose multiple districts to partner with, Nodaway Valley, Winterset and Creston. O-M would stop providing classes for 7th through 12th grade students as those students would chose which other district they would like to attend. O-M and the districts would make agreements on funding as O-M would continue to have the remaining grades.

“Researching tuition-out was difficult because there wasn’t much information available,” Paxton said. She said Morning Sun, northeast of Mount Pleasant, has had tuition-out since 1990. Morning Sun was in a similar position as Orient-Macksburg and has had longstanding agreements with Wapello and Winfield-Mount Union schools. Morning Sun has about 100 students in kindergarten through sixth, averaging 12 per grade.

“The residents of Morning Sun are very, very protective of their school because they know that if the school closes, there will be nothing left of the town,” Paxton said about comments from Morning Sun administration. Morning Sun keeps 13% of the $7,825 state funding per student who attend the other two districts. Those funds are used for the elementary grades. Morning Sun has agreements with the districts to provide busing for seventh through 12th grade students. Morning Sun has the legal right to keep up to 50% of the funding, per Iowa Code and negotiations.

“If tuition-out was a hard concept to grasp, it was even harder to find an official definition of it,” Paxton said.

Bracy explained reorganization “is like marriage.”

“You add your district with another district,” she said. Orient-Macksburg could merge with Nodaway Valley, provided it passes by a vote of the people. It’s possible the merged districts would have a new name, mascot and colors. It’s possible Nodaway Valley’s colors and mascot would still be used for the merged districts. Nodaway Valley Wolverines and colors were the products of a merger of the former Greenfield and Bridgewater-Fontanelle districts some 25 years ago.

Orient-Macksburg’s building and facilities can still be used by the consolidated schools.

“The residents of Orient do not want their school building to be vacant or to be converted to something less-than desirable, like a junkyard. The new school board could make the decision to tear down the building, sell the building or even abandon,” she said. The new school board would incorporate people from the Orient-Macksburg district.

“You have to have a good fit for the votes to be a yes” she said.

Dissolution is the “divorce” the students explained, calling it the most extreme.

Orient-Macksburg would no longer exist in any form as it requires a vote of the people. Students would attend in neighboring school districts and its property would be divided. O-M teachers and staff would have to find other work. An accompanying survey showed 93% of people want the O-M building converted to an apartment complex or community center. Orient’s public library and daycare would be forced to move.

“Some might have to move to find a new job,” Bracy said. “That could be a really close move such as Nodaway Valley or Creston, but it might have to be a far move such as going all the way to Carroll or further.”

Clearfield, along the Ringgold-Taylor county line, closed its school in 2014.

Students’ research showed the Orient-Macksburg decline started in the 1980s as it could no longer field a football team. Orient-Macksburg students played football elsewhere starting in 1988. In 2004, Orient-Macksburg wrestlers went to Creston. In 2008, Orient-Macksburg started attending some Creston classes, mostly electives. That agreement lasted until 2021.

Kendra Breitsprecher teaches composition II.

John Van Nostrand

JOHN VAN NOSTRAND

An Iowa native, John's newspaper career has mostly been in small-town weeklies from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River. He first stint in Creston was from 2002 to 2005.