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A-R looks ‘south and west’ for consolidation

By Staff | Oct 28, 2009

After trying to negotiate either whole-grade sharing or consolidation with North Kossuth and Sentral school districts for over three years, Armstrong-Ringsted Consolidated School District is looking in a different direction.

Last Wednesday officials from A-R, North Kossuth and Sentral met at Sentral and A-R noted that it was “aggressively seeking consolidation” – a mantra that A-R Superintendent Randy Collins has been saying for some time now to prompt whole-grade sharing or consolidation discussions. Pressure by the Iowa Legislature on smaller districts to consolidate, declining student numbers at A-R and a recent 10 percent across-the-board cut ordered by Gov. Chet Culver have underscored the need for consolidation.

However, A-R did not have a ready audience for its whole-grade sharing/consolidation proposal last Wednesday.

“We did not receive what I would call a warm response,” said Collins. That prompted the Armstrong-Ringsted Board of Education Monday night to shift directions in its search for another district with which to partner.

“We’re going to talk to our other neighbors,” said Collins. “We’re going to focus on Graettinger and Terril.”

Collins now shares his superintendent duties with Graettinger and Terril as well as A-R. A major reason for that is the supplemental weighting A-R receives by sharing his position. A-R also shares maintenance supervisor Tom Mart’s position with the City of Armstrong and transportation director Nate Hanson’s position with Sentral.

Collins addressed a question as to whether he was motivated to look at consolidation with Graettinger-Terril due to his shared position.

“That was not even considered in the beginning but I would have to consider that as an asset right now,” said Collins. He stressed though that the major motivating factor was an apparent lack of current interest by either Sentral or North Kossuth to pursue sharing/consolidation talks with A-R.

“We really laid it out on the table and expressed an urgency,” Collins said. He said A-R was willing to bring in a neutral consultant and would live by whatever the consultant recommended.

In addition to possible whole-grade sharing or consolidation with Graettinger-Terril, A-R is keeping the door open to talks with Estherville Lincoln Central and Emmetsburg.

“That’s the new path that we’re taking,” said Collins. “We will aggressively seek partnerships.”

Collins said mutual need was “absolutely” a determining factor in looking at Graettinger-Terril. “We’re looking at out future and what’s best for our kids,” Collins said.

The current economic situation also has been a deciding factor, said Collins.

“We’re not at the crisis stage but we’re going to be aggressively proactive and open to whole-grade sharing or consolidation.”

Collins said whole-grade sharing or consolidation would either mean more bus seat time for students or a better use of technology. He said Sciping, using the ICN or holding Internet classes could be options. “I see technology as really playing a huge role,” Collins said.

Collins said a clarifying factor in deciding to look beyond North Sentral and Kossuth for sharing was the fact that 2007 was the last time the districts had done strategic planning and nothing had happened since then.

“We’ve made absolutely no progress,” Collins said. “We’re going to look south and west.”