Tempers Flare During Sports Co-Op Discussion During Special Session of Waverly School Board

By Benjamin Cox on October 10, 2022 at 12:08pm

Tempers flared during a standing-room-only Special Session called by the Waverly School Board on October 5th.

The meeting was called to discuss and primarily dispense information about Waverly’s current co-op with both Franklin and New Berlin.

Waverly and Franklin have been in a sports co-op since the late 1990s, initially starting with track and cross country. Eventually, the co-op grew larger in 2006 expanding to to girls’ volleyball in Franklin and girls basketball in Waverly and also boys and girls golf at Waverly. After that, the full sports co-op adopted the South County High School sports co-op in the 2014-2015 sports season and has been in place since. Waverly and Franklin currently have been in a football co-op with New Berlin for the last few years, as well.

A third school, Auburn, had been added into the mix after Waverly Superintendent Dr. Andrea Guerrero said during the meeting she was contacted by Auburn Superintendent Darren Root via text message about possibly combining for sports: “I got a text that said ‘Do you want to meet to talk about some possibilities as coop agreements are updating?’ from Mr. Root. So it was the athletic director, the superintendents, and the [school] board presidents…and the high school principals that met. Their [high school and junior high principals] are separate and ours is the same.”

Guerrero also said during the meeting that there were some positives in possibly entering into a co-op agreement with Auburn like offering 0-hour classes that Waverly currently doesn’t offer, cheerleading, and other sports. She said there are also some things that are concerning: “There were some things [they offered] that were concerning that were glaring differences [from our current co-op]. One of the things is moving from a 2A to a 3A level, and it would change in some circumstances, so that would change our conference and also changes the level of competition. That’s a big jump. They were very clear that they would be hands off from any tournaments that we host in Waverly. Their activity fees are considerably higher than ours. Their activity fees are $100 per sport and go up to $200, but that is a significant increase. Also, with coaching, the concern or the significant change as well, is that for head coaches under what they proposed and we were told this would be non-negotiable is [Waverly] would not have any input or say, sitting at the table, for any of the head coach positions.”

Many members of the audience, which included members of the Waverly, Franklin, and New Berlin communities were completely against the idea. The audience also included students from all three schools, head coaches from all three schools, and school board members from Franklin. The general consensus from all in attendance was that the Waverly School Board should be looking to improve and continue to foster the current co-op agreement as it stands. It was at this point during one of the exchanges between members of the audience and the Waverly administration that Franklin and Waverly’s futures were woven into the mix.

One of the more directed exchanges came when parents of the audience asked about the status of consolidation between Waverly and Franklin. Franklin School Board member Willie Smith and Dr. Guerrero then sparred over the status of the feasibility study of consolidation:

Audience Member: …but Franklin dropped the consolidation.
Audience Member #2: Franklin did not.
Dr. Guerrero: It was in the newspaper. We had a town hall meeting after it was published that they weren’t pursuing it.
[inaudible cross talk]
Willie Smith: January 2022 the Franklin School Board voted 7-0 to do the feasibility study for consolidation…January 2022. It’s published on the school board’s website.
Dr. Guerrero: Yeah, nobody told us anything.
Audience Member: Why hasn’t the study happened?
Willie Smith: You have to have two to tango. So it came over here and Mr. Philip gave a presentation over here…
Dr. Guerrero: Yes, he did.
Willie Smith: and me and Mike and the other board members up there, you guys voted to table it, correct?
Mike Keaton: He had a heart attack.
Smith: Didn’t you table this a couple times?
Guerrero: No, just that he had the heart attack, but we were also told and it was in the newspaper that Franklin dropped the consolidation or the feasibility study.
Smith: That’s an incorrect statement.

The feasibility study with Midwest School Consultants was approved by the Franklin School Board at their regular December 15, 2021 meeting, according to the school district’s published meeting minutes. The minutes have been available since at least April.

The article in question from Dr. Guerrero’s statements may be the December 30, 2021 report published by the Jacksonville Journal-Courier that says that Franklin had put the feasibility study on hold, according to an interview the paper conducted with Franklin Superintendent Jeff Waggener, because the Waverly administration had opted to host a town hall meeting in January with Bill Phillip of Midwest School Consultants to provide information to the Waverly community.

In a follow-up article published in the Journal-Courier on January 4th, the consolidation town hall presentation in Waverly was postponed due to Phillip’s aforementioned medical emergency. Guerrero told WLDS News after the meeting that the Franklin vote to proceed with the study was news to her: “We did not have any communication with the Franklin School Board that they did actually vote and that they wanted to proceed with the feasibility study, so that was absolutely new news. The superintendent never contacted or let us know as well as the consultant that we were working with, so that will have to be something on the agenda to follow up on, because that was not communicated with us.”

Guerrero said at the conclusion of the meeting that the Special Session was meant to be informational for the community about the sports co-op and that allegations on social media stoked community tempers and created whispers of a backroom agenda with the Waverly and Auburn administrations. She says that simply wasn’t the case: “There was a lot of social media and maybe community gossip instead of asking directly either to myself, the athletic director, or to the board members about what did the discussion entail. I think in having those discussions is just a change in the way of doing things – you know in having a discussion versus not making a rash decision or just making a decision. It’s a change to just have that discussion first just to get all the information out there so that everyone could be informed because I think that is what is important.”

During cross talk between Dr. Guerrero and Waverly School Board President Mike Keeton, both agreed that the feasibility study and further exploration of consolidation could be brought to the school board as a possible action item or further official discussion.

Guerrero says that the Waverly-Franklin Co-Op committee met just last month. A decision on the co-op is necessary because the intergovernmental agreement between both schools is set to expire in May 2023. Guerrero says the hope was to hold the special session to present the community with all the options and see how the community and the school board wish to move forward.

Waverly School Board President Mike Keeton said during the meeting he was looking at the co-op agreement from more of an academic point of view. He says he’s all about enhancing the current co-op agreement academically: “I would like to do anything we can for both the students of Waverly and Franklin…you know any kind of educational classes we could add at either school, I’m all in favor of. Again, we did talk about the conflict between block schedule and traditional schedule. That was something that Waverly switched to 4-5 years ago, and we stand by that decision. I don’t see a reason to go back to block. If you looked around the area, you wouldn’t find many schools at all on block. I think it’s a very low percentage in the state. Traditional is the way to go. That’s what we believe in. We think that’s where our future and education is going to improve with the traditional schedule. I don’t anticipate us switching from that. If Franklin would consider coming to the traditional schedule, I think that would be beneficial.”

No official action was taken at the meeting. Any agreement or pursuit of a possible change to Waverly’s co-op agreement or pursuing further talks with Auburn would be made by vote at Waverly’s next scheduled monthly business meeting.

For now, Dr. Guerrero says she is going to follow through with a suggestion of sending out a survey to parents and students for 5th Grade through high school to gauge interest about any new sports, perception of Waverly’s current co-op agreements, and suggestions for how the current co-op needs to change or work better.