July 18, 2024

O-M vote: ‘We get one shot’

The Orient-Macksburg school dissolvement committee meets Monday. A plan to break up the school territory will be on a Sept. 10 ballot for the voters.

ORIENT — What the Orient-Macksburg school district dissolvement committee wanted to avoid, can’t be avoided.

During its first meeting last month, the committee approved to hold the election in March 2025 to allow district voters to decide how the district will be absorbed by neighboring districts. Further discussion since with legal counsel and Adair County officials forced that vote to be held Sept. 10 because of the timing of approval of county and school district budgets for the ensuing fiscal year.

“The March date does not work,” said committee chairman Ryan Frederick Monday.

Having met with Adair County officials, he said March is historically the time when county and school districts are completed. Not knowing how much of the Orient-Macksburg district territory will be taken over by neighboring school districts, let alone voter approval of the entire proposal, those districts’ fiscal year 2026 budgets would not be accurate since the amount of Orient-Macksburg territory would not be reflected in the respective budget. The fiscal year 2026 budget begins July 1, 2025.

“I feel bad, no one brought it up,” said Orient-Macksburg Superintendent Jeff Kruse. He is only moderating the committee meetings as he has no voting privilege. During the committee’s first meeting, he emphasized the massive amount of work needed to be done, and in a relatively short amount of time, to meet all legal requirements to have it on a September ballot.

“I think this is done rarely enough. I get the real insinuation there’s very few people who have any idea how this works,” Frederick said about learning the procedures to close an Iowa public school district. The last district to close was 10 years ago. Iowa Code does not allow a special election, like this, to be on a November general election ballot.

An election date in March would only work if the Orient-Macksburg school district was planning to continue for the 2025-2026 school year. Frederick said that can’t be an option as the district is estimated to have a deficit of $500,000 for that school year. Orient-Macksburg will operate for the 2024-2025 school year.

“We want this to be as liability free as possible,” Frederick said after the meeting.

“The district is going to close. We have no money,” said committee member Jana Scott, who is also the chairman of the Orient-Macksburg school board. She said she is under the impression there are people who think if they vote no the school will remain open. “I am amazed by the people who are shocked.”

The neighboring school districts that agree to the committee’s proposal how to break up the district, along with voter approval, will be responsible for the same percentage of Orient-Macksburg’s debts at the time the district closes. For example, if Creston school agrees to taking 50% of Orient-Macksburg territory, it will be responsible for 50% of Orient-Macksburg’s debts. Creston would also receive 50% of revenue of Orient-Macksburg assests sold. Orient-Macksburg also has property tax revenue from wind turbines. There are about 80 Orient-Macksburg students who live in the district but attend school elsewhere.

“We get one shot,” committee member Matt Mensing said about the vote.

It would have been possible for the committee to have a September election. If it would have failed, or neighboring districts would have not been in approval of the proposal, the committee could have rewritten the plan for a March 2025 vote. Nodaway Valley (Greenfield), East Union and Winterset schools also border the Orient-Macksburg district. Properties in the Orient-Macksburg district will be part of school tax rates that are absorbed by the respective districts.

If the September vote fails, Frederick and Kruse both said the state department of education will take over the closing process.

“The department of education will tell what it is going to be,” Frederick said.

With a July 26 deadline to have a certain amount of information needed to begin writing the proposal, the committee agreed to a meeting schedule until then. The dissolvement committee will meet and invite neighboring school districts 5 p.m. July 8. A public hearing will be at 5:30 p.m. July 15 in the school gym.

The Orient-Macksburg school board is expected to have the dissolvement proposal as part of a meeting.

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.