Catlin merger plan moves forward
SIDELL — Jamaica school officials voted unanimously Thursday to pursue a consolidation with the nearby Catlin school district, and will appoint members to a 10-member committee to study the issue.
The Catlin school board voted last week to pursue a consolidation with Jamaica and appoint members to the 10-member committee. Jamaica Superintendent Phil Harrison said that the two boards have been talking about merging their districts for months now, and Thursday's vote allows officials to formally pursue the matter.
"I am excited about the possibilities that are evident in a consolidation," Harrison said.
In recent months, superintendents and school board members of five southern Vermilion County districts have openly said 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.
At a special joint meeting of the Catlin and the Jamaica school boards Sept. 18, Harrison and Catlin Superintendent Gary Lewis both said that their districts' expenditures started exceeding revenues in 2012, and that they do not expect to have any financial reserves left to tap for expenses after 2016.
Jamaica school board President Steve Bainbridge has said that he would like to explore a scenario where the two districts consolidate with elementary students from the Jamaica area continuing to attend school in Jamaica and those from the Catlin area continuing to attend Catlin Grade School; junior high students from both districts attending school in one building — either the Jamaica school or Catlin High School; and high school students from both districts attending school together in the other building.
"I think we are all committed to moving forward, and to having the Committee of Ten try to put together a viable plan for us to consider," Bainbridge said.
Each district will appoint five members to the committee. Harrison said that the appointees from the Jamaica district would likely be two school board members, one district teacher and two members of the community.
Those interested in serving on the committee can apply by completing a form available starting Monday in the Jamaica district's office and on its website, http://www.jamaica.k12.il.us. The deadline is Nov. 8. Board members will meet Nov. 9 to review the applications and may appoint the five members.
Bainbridge said the superintendents and board presidents from the Jamaica and Catlin districts met with State Rep. Chad Hays, R-Catlin, Wednesday regarding the reorganization talks. He said the meeting was positive, and that Hays asked about the next steps.
Bainbridge also said the superintendents and board presidents from Catlin, Jamaica and Oakwood met late Wednesday to talk about possible mergers. Bainbridge said that, even though the possible Catlin-Jamaica consolidation was his priority, it was good to keep the lines of communication with Oakwood open regarding a possible cooperative high school sometime in the future.
In other business, board members agreed to extend the retirement date of Catlin Grade School Principal Mollie Pletch by one year. Pletch had planned to retire at the end of the 2013-14 school year, but offered to stay on until the end of the 2014-15 year to ease the transition into a possible school reorganization.
The board's next regular meeting will be 6 p.m. Nov. 21.