June 16, 2024

Orient-Macksburg school to plan its end

With declining enrollment, the Orient-Macksburg School Board approved Monday to begin the process of closing the school. The school will be operational for the 2024-2025 school year.

ORIENT — With some younger grades having less than 10 students, and only one senior expected in high school next year, the Orient-Macksburg School Board unanimously approved Monday to begin the process to close the school. The school will still operate for the 2024-2025 school year.

“Declining enrollment, meeting accreditation, factors we have talked about since I’ve been here are the reasons for leading to this decision. The first is you approve a resolution. You are not dissolving tonight. You are simply saying you are going to move forward with the process that it would take to dissolve,” said Superintendent Jeff Kruse.

Orient-Macksburg has about 100 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. About 80 students who live in the Orient-Macksburg district attend elsewhere. About 30 students open enroll into Orient-Macksburg.

The first step is to create committees to organize the dissolvement. An election by voters in the district to approve the dissolvement plan is expected to happen in March. There is an election date in September, but Kruze said there is not enough time to be prepared, adding the intensity of the work will still apply to have it ready by March. The seven-member dissolvement committee can have up to three school board members. President Jana Scott said she is interested in serving.

The committee members must be eligible voters living in the Orient-Macksburg district. The committee must meet within 15 days after all being appointed. The board approved Scott, board member Alex Maeder, Ryan Frederick, Gary Metzger, Matt Thompson and Mike Thompson to the committee.

Committee members must meet with all contiguous school districts to discuss accepting Orient-Macksburg district territory and under what conditions. The committee also meets with residents of the Orient-Macksburg district. Voters will decide if they approve of the committee’s proposal of what happens to the district’s territory.

School board members asked what happens if the committee sees a plan to continue without dissolving the district.

“I just think it’s difficult to jump to reorganization because we are not whole-grade sharing with anybody,” Kruse said. “We are in a different spot because we were doing some sharing with one partner, we switched partners. We have not really got engaged with anybody yet,” he said, using the engagement word as an analogy.

“If people know our opinions, maybe they won’t be so against whatever we decide,” he said.

Board member Alex Maeder added how there are more students living in the Orient-Macksburg district open enrolled to other districts than there are students open enrolled into the district.

“Whatever decisions we make, Orient-Macksburg is not going to be Orient-Macksburg,” Scott said.

She wasn’t alone.

“At the end of the day to merge with somebody completely or dissolve the outcome is the same,” Maeder said.

Andrew Zelleweger made the motion to approve the resolution, second by Maeder.

Kruse suggested other committees to determine what happens with the school’s memorabilia and buildings. He said those can be created at a later date.

Before the vote, the audience listened to a presentation by Jon Hueser who was superintendent and involved in Corwith-Wesley’s dissolvement plan in 2015 in northern Iowa. The school overlapped Kossuth and Hancock counties. He was invited to the meeting by Kruse.

“It was one of the toughest decisions you will ever make. It is brutally hard on board and the staff. The one that handles it the easiest are the kids,” Hueser said. “It’s hard on a community it’s hard on people that have been there and have raised their kids there.”

Corwith-Wesley was in a whole-grade sharing agreement with Lu Verne and did not want to hurt Lu Verne. Corwith-Wesley did not have enough students to be viable and was strongly influenced by state officials to “do something.” “You don’t want to be in a position where outside people makes decisions about your district.”

Hueser encouraged the Orient-Macksburg board to find teac

Jon Hueser

hing positions for their staff in other districts.

He said vacant buildings that show deterioration are not good for the community. He encouraged the board, if they plan to sell the building, to sell it to someone who will properly maintain it.

“You will run into some things,” Hueser said, noting the difference between tax rates with contiguous districts and where students are open-enrolled.

He said the biggest issues were school memorabilia and the building. A committee catalogued every item Corwith-Wesley had including “seventh-place band trophies.” Hueser said decisions about what to do with memorabilia will be difficult because of the sentimental value. A city hall may have the place to display some of the trophies, but not all. School districts that absorb the dissolving district may not have room for additional items.

His dissolution committee asked property owners what district they would like their property to belong. That information helped decide the new school district borders. He said 87% of the property was acquired by Lu Verne and the rest was divided among Algona, West Hancock and Clarion-Goldfield. Hueser said the landowners have the control of what district they will be part and show in the proposed plan. Whatever district acquires a majority of the property also receives the school’s records.

Kruse informed Hueser about Orient-Macksburg’s past by partnering with Creston, then switching in recent years to Nodaway Valley in Greenfield. Hueser said his committee also considered where open-enroll students were attending. Algona was a common location.

“The kids will adapt. They will be scared at first,” Hueser said about his experience transitioning students to new schools. “We took them on tours at the end of the year.”

Hueser emphasized to have all the decisions influenced and, or made by Orient-Macksburg district residents.

“You will do everything in public and you will make the best decision,” he said.

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.