Catlin, Jamaica looking at reorganization options

Catlin, Jamaica looking at reorganization options

Panel may be appointed to offer plan for voters

RURAL SIDELL — School officials from the Catlin and Jamaica districts are interested in exploring reorganization options and may appoint a special committee to recommend a plan for voters to consider.

About 90 residents attended a special joint meeting of the Catlin and the Jamaica school boards this week for a discussion of options that could lead to a combined high school or a single school district.

Jamaica School Superintendent and Catlin School Superintendent Gary Lewis both said their districts' expenditures started exceeding their revenues in 2012, and that they do not expect to have any financial reserves left after 2016.

"Sadly, the Catlin district cannot stand on its own much longer," Lewis said.

Harrison said creating a cooperative Catlin-Jamaica high school or consolidating the two districts would result in reduced personnel expenses, reduced administrative expenses, better purchasing power, and more academic and extracurricular offerings. Harrison said that — of those two choices — a consolidated district would provide more cost savings, more flexibility and better opportunities to design a single curriculum to meet academic goals.

Under a consolidation, two or more schools or districts merge into a single school or district with central management and a single school board.

Under a cooperative, two or more schools merge, but the original school boards remain and jointly operate the merged school.

Jamaica school board President Steve Bainbridge said he would like to explore a scenario where the two districts consolidated, but elementary students from the Jamaica area would continue to attend school in Jamaica and elementary students from the Catlin area would continue to attend Catlin Grade School, and the junior high students from both districts would attend school in one building — ether the Jamaica school or Catlin High School — and the high school students from both districts would attend school together in the other building.

Catlin school board President Jeff Fauver said he expected the Catlin board to vote whether to study a possible reorganization with the Jamaica district at the October school board meeting. If the study is approved, he said, the board would likely nominate five area residents to a 10-member committee to study the subject and make a recommendation to both boards at the November meeting.

Bainbridge said the Jamaica board would likely follow the same timetable.

Any decision to reorganize the districts would have to be approved by voters in both districts. Fauver said a question to create a cooperative high school would not be on the ballot before the fall 2014 election, and a question to consolidate the districts would not appear before the fall 2015 election.

Jamaica school board member Ron Taylor said a consolidation would make Catlin-Jamaica a strong district.

Catlin school board member Jim Chandler said he believed a cooperative high school would be easier for Catlin area residents to support than a full consolidation.

Catlin school board member Doug Klemme said this was an opportunity to build something that would be great, academically, for the students, and that residents should not be scared of change.

"I would prefer for my kids to go to school in Catlin, but I am not scared for them to attend school in Jamaica," Klemme said.

Kirbi Bennett, a Jamaica district resident, said he was not surprised to see so many people attend the meeting, nor was he surprised to see how constructive the audience comments were.

"The Catlin and Jamaica districts have a lot in common, and already have a good relationship," Bennett said. "Now, I just want to see some action taken. We should decide on a plan, and then move forward with it."

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