Board revisits forming co-op high school

ROSSVILLE — Though Rossville-Alvin high schoolers will continue attending two other northern Vermilion County schools at least through the next school year, district officials are continuing to search for the best long-term solution for educating those students.

Today, they will begin looking into the idea of forming a cooperative high school with one or more neighboring school districts.

Superintendent Crystal Johnson said the school board has not decided whether to pursue that reorganizational model. "We're just trying to explore all of the options," she said, adding the meeting is informational only.

At meetings with Bismarck-Henning and then Hoopeston Area school boards, Vermilion County Assistant Regional Superintendent Mark Janesky will present information on forming a cooperative high school.

 

The first meeting, with the Bismarck-Henning school board, will be held at 7 p.m. today (Thursday, April 12) in the Bismarck-Henning board room or library, County Road 17268 East 2750 North, Bismarck.

The second, with the Hoopeston Area school board, will be at 7 p.m. Monday in the Rossville-Alvin Grade School library, 350 N. Chicago St., Rossville.

"I just want to make sure their boards are clear on what the law says and what they can and can't do," said Janesky, who, as Jamaica schools superintendent and principal, discussed forming a cooperative high school with the Catlin and Oakwood school districts for a number of years and worked with local state legislators on legislation to make that a viable option.

Under a cooperative high school arrangement, two or more contiguous school districts pool their resources to offer combined academic and extracurricular programs either at new or existing facilities. Each cooperating district maintains local control of its own separate elementary and middle or junior high schools in their respective communities, along with their board and superintendent. Voters in all of the districts elect a cooperative board with representatives from each district to oversee the newly formed cooperative high school.

The boards of each district must approve a resolution putting a referendum on the ballot, and then voters in each district must approve it.

Janesky said Jamaica, Catlin and Oakwood school officials have pursued the idea as a way of enhancing the curricular and extracurricular opportunities for students in those small, rural districts and for leveling the playing field for them as they apply for college, other educational opportunities or the workforce.

He also said officials in those districts saw some long-term costs savings, as well. However, one of the main hurdles has been getting state construction dollars to pay for a new, centrally located building.

Rossville-Alvin officials have explored forming a cooperative high school with Bismarck-Henning, Hoopeston Area as well as other north county districts before. In 2005, district voters passed a referendum to deactivate the high school, and students have attended Bismarck-Henning and Hoopeston Area schools under a deactivation agreement since 2006. Recently, all three boards approved extending the agreement through the 2012-13 school year.

But "we're still facing the same issues," Johnson said, referring to higher tuition costs, other operating costs, declining revenues and the uncertainty of state funding.

Though Rossville-Alvin officials are initiating revisiting the cooperative high school idea, Scott Watson and Hank Hornbeck, superintendents of the Bismarck-Henning and Hoopeston Area districts respectively, said their board members are willing to come to the table.

"Is this something our district is going to want to do? I don't know," Watson said. "But we're going to go in with an open mind and listen to what's said."

Hornbeck agreed. "In my opinion, the state is making it more difficult for school districts, especially the smaller school districts to operate," he said, referring to cuts in general state aid and categorical funding. "That's why I think it's a good idea to go ahead and see what other options we might have for educating our students in the future."

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