WESTVILLE — School officials from the Westville and Georgetown-Ridge-Farm districts met Monday to discuss reorganization options, and want to meet again later this month to continue the talks.
No formal actions were taken at the study session, but demographic, financial and academic data was reviewed, and board members from the school districts seemed to think positively about the possibilities of a consolidated Georgetown - Ridge Farm - Westville district.
"We want to thrive, not just survive," said Westville School Board members Deborah Seripinas said.
Declining enrollments and shrinking revenues from the state — a key financial resource for area districts — are causing many school officials to consider mergers with nearby districts.
"All our ships are sinking," Westville School Superintendent Jim Owens said. "But some are sinking faster than others."
In recent months, the superintendents and school board members of the five southern Vermilion County districts have openly said that they are interested in exploring various options — including making a single cooperative high school for the Catlin, Georgetown-Ridge Farm, Jamaica, Oakwood and Westville districts — that would allow them to combine resources, pool area property tax revenues and improve academic and extracurricular offerings to students.
Owens said the similar demographics between the Westville and Georgetown-Ridge Farm school districts make it easy to consider combining the two to the benefit of both.
"How can Westville and Georgetown-Ridge Farm team up to offer more academics and more extracurricular activities for our kids than we can offer them separately ?" Owens asked.
All seven Westville school board members and six of the seven Georgetown-Ridge Farm school board members were at the study session, as were the two district superintendents and the director of operations for the Westville district.
Seth Miller, the director of operations, said his research found a school district that would be similar to a Georgetown-Ridge Farm-Westville district — the Harrisburg district in southern Illinois.
Miller said the combined district would have an equalized assessed valuation of $49,700 per student, a tax rate of $4.68 per $100of assessed valuation, 2,397 pupils and a poverty rate of 60 percent. The Harrisburg district has an equalized assessed valuation of $52,100 per student, a tax rate of $4.53 per $100 of assessed valuation, 2,178 pupils and a poverty rate of 58 percent.
Miller also said the combined district high school would have 690 students and 46 teachers. Harrisburg High School has 597 students and 36 teachers.
School officials were impressed with the variety of curriculum offerings and the increased number of extracurricular activities and sports at Harrisburg.
"I am intrigued," said Georgetown-Ridge Farm Superintendent Jean Neal. "I like the larger number of course offerings, and especially the honors courses so that graduates are more prepared for college."
Owens said that one possibility would be for the two districts to consolidate and have a single high school, a single junior high school, and grade schools in both communities.
Georgetown-Ridge Farm School Board President Kevin Latoz said he thought the area residents would be more likely to consider a reorganization now than they might have been 15 or more years ago, because the communities' children now interact more with each other.
"I think that the time is right for these talks," Latoz said.
Georgetown-Ridge Farm Board member April Evans said reinventing the schools could benefit the area economically, because strong schools are attractive to potential homebuyers.
Board members said they would think about the possibilities brought up at the study session, seek input from their communities, and discuss the matter at their board meetings later this month. The two boards plan to meet again at Georgetown-Ridge Farm High School on Oct. 23 for another study session, and said meetings with local legislators and officials from Vermilion Advantage and Danville Area Community College may follow, as may public forums on the subject.
Latoz said the school board members do not have a lot of answers yet, but he liked that they are talking and looking for ways to move forward.
"This is an opportunity to launch a course of success for our students," Neal said.