Winchester and Bluffs will not consolidate for now. The Bluffs School Board got no motion to form a Committee of 10 to explore consolidation of the two districts last night after a special board meeting and community public hearing on the consolidation feasibility study that was released in April.
Superintendent for both Districts, Kevin Blankenship says that there are some open options on the table for the future of both schools: “I think they are going to look at some of the other options they talked about. They talked about reaching out to other schools, maybe expanding this [consolidation or reorganization effort], looking at a cooperative high school, maybe look at more sharing with either of the neighboring school districts or even with Winchester. I think tonight was just about the Committee of 10, which is more of a formal path to a consolidation. I think they are just looking to get more information and to explore maybe some other options before we get to that point.”
Blankenship says it’s not really about one district wanting consolidation over the other at this point. He says it’s about getting information to make sure everything works out for both communities: “There was a few comments heard from some board members and some members of the public that if we could build a school and if it was in the middle [of the county], didn’t cost us a lot of money – there seems to be support for that. Again, I think if you are going to look at that, then you have to take some step to make that happen. It just doesn’t magically appear and oh, here’s money to build a new school. The districts are going to have to take some opportunity. I wouldn’t say there is not support for [reorganization], I just think that it’s a question of how is it going to work out. I think that is where board members and people want more information on that.”
Blankenship the hesitation lies on both sides with consolidation because of problems that are akin to each district: “This is always a controversial issue. I think the Bluffs community made it loud and clear that they are worried that they are going to lose K-12 all together. For the Winchester part, I think they are concerned about the cost of a new building. That’s going to cost them more money. They have 17 years left on a bond. They have some of the same concerns [as Bluffs]. I think both districts just want more information.”
Other options that are possibly being explored is co-oping with some classes and programs between the schools, which would require the districts to get on the same page with scheduling. The other problem both districts are facing are aging buildings. The current feasibility study says that Bluffs would only be able to bond for approximately $14 million dollars if they need to do a major construction project. Blankenship and the board both said a new building would cost 3 to 4 times that amount. It is something that the Bluffs Board will explore at their next business meeting Monday night.
Overall, Gary Westemeyer, Bluffs School Board President, that the district’s other buildings are in the best shape they have been in over a decade and the district is fiscally sound. The consensus was that the consolidation or co-op efforts of both schools should broaden to other smaller districts in the area like Meredosia, Triopia, Virginia, and Griggsville-Perry to see if they would participate or cooperate in a larger picture effort to put schools together and pool resources.
The previous consolidation efforts by both schools failed in 2008.