ROSSVILLE – Months of merger discussions with neighboring school districts may finally give way to action Monday night when the Rossville-Alvin school board considers a resolution to pursue a high school cooperative with the Bismarck-Henning school district – or a consolidation with the Hoopeston Area school district.
Rossville-Alvin Superintendent Carl Sartwell said the resolution states that Rossville-Alvin and Bismarck-Henning will form an athletic cooperative in all sports in the 2004-05 school year and begin sharing some academics. That would serve as a transition to share all athletics and academics in following school years.
If the resolution fails, Sartwell said the district would pursue consolidation with the Hoopeston Area school district.
"I think it's important for people to understand that we're at a crossroads," Sartwell said. "We're kind of hitching our wagon to Bismarck-Henning, and if the decision is to not approve the resolution, then we'll be hitching our wagon to Hoopeston Area. None of this is legal, of course, until voters approve it, but that's the direction the board would head."
Declining enrollment, a shrinking tax base and dwindling state aid have prompted Rossville-Alvin officials to seriously contemplate the future of the school district. As a result, they launched merger discussions several months ago with Hoopeston Area and Bismarck-Henning.
Rossville-Alvin school board members have met with both the Bismarck-Henning and Hoopeston Area school boards. At the last meeting between Rossville-Alvin and Bismarck-Henning, both decided to consider resolutions to work toward a cooperative high school.
The Bismarck-Henning board approved the resolution during its meeting Tuesday night. The Rossville-Alvin board will consider the resolution at 7 p.m. Monday in the library at Rossville-Alvin Grade School, 350 N. Chicago St., Rossville.
Dennis Price, the Rossville-Alvin board president, said the issue has been discussed a lot by everyone involved.
"We've talked to Hoopeston and Bismarck, and each has given us ideas as to their level of cooperation; now it's time to have a vote," he said.
Monday's resolution would serve as a commitment, but for Bismarck-Henning and Rossville-Alvin to actually form a cooperative high school, they would eventually need voters' approval in both school districts. But the issue would not be on a ballot anytime soon.
The two districts would not be able to share additional athletics or academics until the 2004-05 school year and would not form a cooperative high school until at least 2006. In the 2004-05 year, the districts would form a full athletic cooperative modeled after Catlin-Jamaica's Salt Fork partnership. Sartwell said both districts would cooperate in all sports, with a new name, new colors and a new mascot.
Also in that year, both would share some academics, running buses between campuses for classes one or the other does not offer.
In the meantime, both districts would hash out details of a cooperative high school, requiring Rossville-Alvin to deactivate its high school and send its students to Bismarck. Rossville-Alvin would retain its grade school, grades kindergarten through eight, in Rossville, and its school board, which would oversee the grade school.
Bismarck-Henning would retain its school board over grades kindergarten through eight, and a third, joint cooperative high school board would be formed to oversee the cooperative high school.
Rossville-Alvin High School's 118 students would combine with Bismarck-Henning's 249 for a cooperative high school of about 367 students. Hoopeston Area High School has 365 students and would grow to about 483 if Rossville-Alvin consolidated. At one time, Hoopeston Area had about 600 students at the high school level.
Whichever way Rossville-Alvin goes, Sartwell said the vacated high school building could have a future as a vocational center for all northern Vermilion County school districts.
Sartwell said the two districts would retain their respective tax rates. The joint cooperative high school board would not be a taxing body and would get revenue from the two cooperating districts, which would pay a per-student assessment, Sartwell said.
However, a merger with Hoopeston Area is not out of the question, Sartwell said, unless the resolution passes Monday.
Rossville-Alvin has discussed consolidation with Hoopeston Area, which would be a merging of two districts into a brand new district. Both districts' school boards would dissolve, and an entirely new school board would be elected. The new board would establish a new tax rate closest to the lower of the two.
Hoopeston Area has the lowest school tax rate in Vermilion County at $3.70 per $100 of assessed valuation, compared to Rossville-Alvin's $4.60 and Bismarck-Henning's $4.70.
In consolidation, Rossville-Alvin would still retain its grade school, but it would be under the direction of the new board. Rossville-Alvin and Hoopeston Area already share many academic courses and will continue to share next school year regardless of what happens Monday.
Sartwell said the Hoopeston Area option is attractive. However, Sartwell said, the Bismarck-Henning option is attractive as well.
"In my opinion, in terms of academic offerings, Hoopeston has more to offer students from Rossville-Alvin, and I think they have some advantages as to their fine arts program, and their technology programs are very good," he said.
Hoopeston offers about 85 academic courses compared to about 70 at Bismarck-Henning, and Hoopeston already has soccer, a show choir and some extracurricular clubs and programs, such as a television media program, that Bismarck-Henning does not offer.
"And their proximity to Rossville is six miles, while Bismarck is 12 miles or so," Sartwell said. "And the tax rate situation in Hoopeston is more attractive. However, the basic distinction is that we would be joining with Hoopeston Area, but we would be partnering with Bismarck."
Sartwell said the Rossville-Alvin board encourages the community to attend Monday's meeting to be involved in this decision.
"This board has always been very open with the direction it's headed and made every attempt it can to get public input, and that's not going to stop now," he said.
You can reach Tracy Moss at (217) 443-8946 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.