Regional superintendent to decide if merger question goes on ballot

By Jim McCabe on October 25 at 7:23am

The status of a referendum asking voters in the A-C and PORTA school districts if they want to consolidate is in the hands of the regional superintendent.

Members of both boards of education, as well as the “Committee of Ten”, a group comprised of members of both communities exploring the possibility of a merger, attended a public hearing at the high school in Ashland Wednesday night focusing on the proposed merger.

Jean Anderson, the regional superintendent of Logan, Mason and Menard Counties, says most of the testimony she heard learned towards support for consolidation. Anderson says the students that testified from both districts were very supportive.

“Some were student athletes; all were student leaders. Many of them are already involved in extracurriculars through the sports cooperatives, and they stated that they felt no difference being shown to them,” says Anderson.

“They were all one as a team and [it] didn’t matter what school they were represented [by]; they were there to be a team and do the best that they could for their classmates and for each other. I was very proud of them.”

Anderson has two weeks to review the petition and decide if it will end up on the ballot next March. The regional superintendent says she will weigh the merits of the petition and review evidence of enhanced educational opportunities for students in new districts versus what they’re getting currently.

With a loss of nearly 500 students since 2000 and a current enrollment of about 1,050, PORTA superintendent Matt Brue says the consolidation would allow his district’s students to hold on to the educational opportunities they have and would increase learning chances for A-C students.

“We have a fairly comprehensive group of courses we offer here at the high school, and we are running out of students in these courses. Our class sizes in AP Chemistry are too small,” Brue says as an example.

“For us, we feel they should be bigger in order to maintain those programs and keep them running. From a financial standpoint, you need to be filling up classrooms, and that’s the main purpose behind this consolidation effort.”

Multiple calls to Scot Atwood, the president of the A-C school board, have not been returned to WLDS-WEAI News. Since new members were elected to that board in April, it has indicated a lack of support for a merger and the work of the “Committee of Ten,” which supports the move.

The A-C board has expressed concern about budget deficits PORTA has had for the last several years; Brue states that the district expects to have a balanced budget by the end of the year, and that the deficit spending is related to trying to hold on to the aforementioned programs.

The proposed merger would send all A-C central high school students to PORTA’s high school in Petersburg and shut down the elementary school in Chandlerville, although a new school board created from a merger would have the final say.

If Anderson approves the petition, it will be forwarded to the state superintendent. The “Committee of Ten” filed it on September 16th. The merger would take effect on July 1st, 2015 if approved.