The July 7 Friend School Board meeting went well into the night as a discussion regarding a potential consolidation with Exeter-Milligan Public Schools in 2021 was opened to public input.
To abide by social distancing measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the meeting was held in the school’s new gym, with community members filling the bleachers.
An estimated 14 people took to the microphone to share their thoughts on a consolidation after FPS board members including Nancy Vossler, Jamie Tuttle, Scott Spohn, Tiffany Shonerd and Paul Segner provided details and presented their own perspectives on the matter.
For a refresher, Friend and Exeter-Milligan have had football coop for the past two seasons and a softball coop with Fillmore Central Public Schools. The two districts also share a science teacher, Lorie Sliefert, with joint curriculum and a combined FFA chapter.
A feasibility study was done in August 2019 with results presented during Friend’s Feb. 13 board meeting regarding what a merge between the two districts might look like.
Since then, discussions have been held between members of both boards on moving forward on consolidating.
A joint meeting will take place with both boards, one Aug. 5 at the Exeter site and another Sept. 2 at Friend’s campus.
An official vote for consolidation is set for Sept. 16.
Although nothing has been set in stone, some details presented at the July 7 meeting include using both Friend's and Exeter’s buildings for varying grade levels. At the current time, preschool through fifth grade would would attend classes in Exeter and sixth grade through 12th would go to Friend.
If a consolidation would happen, Milligan’s school building would be closed and the newly formed school board would pay $150,000 a year for the next 30 years to the village of Milligan for upkeep of the campus.
“It doesn’t seem to me that a new school district would have to be responsible for a city,” Vossler said.
Vossler said she had many questions that need answers before she would be comfortable voting on a merge.
“I want us to make the best decision for the schools and all the kids,” she said.
Spohn said the reasoning behind the payment amount and duration had to do with each district’s valuation. According the feasibility report, FPS is currently valued at $454,756,579 and Exeter-Milligan is valued at $686,553,035.
“They’re (Milligan) sending almost $100,000 per kid up to these two communities (Friend and Exeter) without benefiting their community, so you can see why they would want to keep their building alive,” Spohn said.
According to Spohn, around 20 students are sent from Milligan to the Exeter site, costing around $2 million a year. “It looks like we’re paying for it out of our district, but really what they’re doing is sending $150,000 of their $2 million is coming back into the town,” Spohn said.
After board members spoke, members of the public shared their opinions.
Some community members said they felt the board was rushing into a decision while others said not enough information has been shared with parents and students about the subject. Others suggested possible alternatives to a consolidation and inquired about the future of both school districts.
“Our numbers are good but they’re not great,” Megan Weber said. “The kids need to prepare for college and need the push academically.”
Many parents voiced concerns about busing kids to different locations, how things could change for students with special needs and more.
An informational packet and a potential survey will be sent to the Friend community regarding the consolidation.
A special FPS board meeting was held on July 13 to again discuss the matter. Segner shared he received an update following the July 8 Exeter-Milligan board meeting and that the Timberwolves are looking at conducting a feasibility study with Fillmore Central for merging purposes. As a result, FPS board members rescinded talks about consolidation for the time being.
The next scheduled Friend Public School Board of Education meeting is Aug. 10 at 7:30 p.m. The meetings are open to the public.