Panel gives preliminary results about merged school districts

ARTHUR — What would a combined Atwood-Hammond/Arthur-Lovington school district look like?

That is what the so-called Committee of 10 has been researching, and preliminary results were presented to the public this week.

If voters in each district approve the annexation of the two school districts in Piatt, Douglas and Moultrie counties on April 9, one of the first things that could happen is establishing a new mascot for the high school. But the district would be known as the Arthur Consolidated Unit School District 305.

The extracurricular committee is recommending the grade and junior high schools keep their mascots, but that the combined high school in Arthur be given a new one. A student committee would select four finalists for the mascot, committee member Tyson Wingler said. By January 2014, eighth- through 11th-grade students would then vote on a new mascot.

The committee recommends the school colors to be red, black and gold.

Committee members also felt that K-8 facilities would remain open in Atwood, Arthur and Lovington, did not foresee any significant transportation issues. The 12-acre Atwood-Hammond High School property could be sold, possibly after demolishing the school building. And the cooperative agreement with Arcola would not be needed.

The current Arthur High School building is adequate to house the projected 105 Atwood-Hammond students, which would bring the combined enrollment to about 370.

"The building has the capacity for about 390 students without any change," said Greg Irwin, building and grounds committee member. He said five classrooms not currently used could accommodate enrollment growth to 540 students.

High school course offerings could increase — possibly four more agriculture classes, more art and marching band — according to curriculum committee members Renee Brown and Linda Casteel.

Arthur-Lovington Superintendent Travis Wilson said district tax rates will need to rise eventually. But he said the larger tax base would stave off severe increases and also hold off the massive budget cuts that many area school districts are considering.

"My hope is if we get out six years, you have a better chance for the state to turn the corner," said Wilson.

The new district would have an assessed valuation of about $170 million, compared with Arthur-Lovington's $124 million. That translates into more real estate tax dollars in a time when state funding continues to drop.

Atwood-Hammond Superintendent Kenny Schwengel said the issue was put on the ballot because of declining enrollment and shrinking fund reserves. He said the district education fund will spend $400,000 more than it brings in this school year, leaving the district with just $600,000 left in that account. He said a tax increase of 95 cents per $100 of equalized assessed valuation would be needed "just to break even" if the district continued on its own.

"Most likely the response to a failed referendum would be some cuts, coupled with working cash bonds to get us through," he added.

The Committee of 10 will hold its last public meeting at 7 p.m. Feb. 25 at Atwood-Hammond Grade School. Recommendations and information will then be compiled and delivered to voters.

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