2 Vermilion districts looking at cooperative high school

2 Vermilion districts looking at cooperative high school

Since 2005, ninth- through 12th-grade students in the Rossville-Alvin district have been attending high school in either the Bismarck-Henning or Hoopeston Area districts under a tri-party deactivation agreement.

However, in those 11 years, no one in the Rossville-Alvin district has had a say in their education.

That could change, starting next year.

On Monday, both the Rossville-Alvin and Bismarck-Henning school boards will vote on whether to put a referendum for a cooperative high school on the April 4 ballot.

If voters in each district approve the referendum, the new cooperative high school would open in fall 2017 — and it would be the second in the state, following the Paris Cooperative High School in Edgar County, which formed in 2009.

Rossville-Alvin board members will meet at 7 p.m. in the elementary school's conference room; Bismarck-Henning board members will meet at 7 p.m. in their boardroom.

"Obviously, we feel both (Bismarck-Henning and Hoopeston) schools are capable of providing our kids with a quality education," said Rossville-Alvin board President Bob Ray, adding that deactivation wasn't meant to be a permanent solution. "This would allow us to have some representation and input on the board."

Rossville-Alvin voters approved deactivating their high school in 2004. The board entered into a deactivation agreement with both neighboring districts, letting parents decide which high school to send their children to.

Early on, Ray recalled, they were evenly split. However, as the years went on, more chose to attend Bismarck-Henning.

Currently, 90 students attend Bismarck-Henning and 36 attend Hoopeston, said Rossville-Alvin Superintendent Crystal Johnson.

The 'sibling clause'

Ray said that was a factor in his board initiating discussions on forming a co-op high school with the Bismarck-Henning board in the summer of 2015.

Under a cooperative high school arrangement, two or more contiguous districts pool their resources to offer combined academic and extracurricular programs at either new or existing facilities. If the two districts formed a co-op, they would continue to use the current Bismarck-Henning High School.

"There would be no new construction" and very little, if any, staff changes, said Bismarck-Henning Superintendent Scott Watson.

Each district would continue to run its own elementary and junior high school in their respective communities, and have their own boards and superintendents.

Voters in both districts would elect a cooperative board with representation from each district to oversee the new school.

Under the agreement, any Rossville-Alvin student currently attending Hoopeston Area High School would be allowed to graduate there. And under a "sibling clause," anyone completing eighth grade at Rossville-Alvin between 2017 and 2019 would be allowed to attend Hoopeston, if they chose to.

"We're not trying to split up families," Watson said.

No 'huge savings'

Watson said a merger would allow both districts to increase their financial stability. While both districts are in good financial shape, "we'd rather be proactive than reactive to what happens with the state of Illinois down the road," he said, pointing out that districts historically have been underfunded.

"It won't be a huge savings for Rossville initially, although there are some," Ray added, pointing out his district won't have to bus students to two different districts. "But we think there will be a long-term savings."

Johnson added a merger would be an opportunity for her district to align its curriculum to one high school and increase opportunities for students in both districts such as an FFA club. When Rossville-Alvin deactivated, Ray said the school's FFA chapter joined Hoopeston's.

"That's one of the things that's been discussed, but it would be the decision of the new board," Ray said. But under a co-op, "we would definitely get a say in it."

If both boards approve putting the referendum on the ballot, they will host another public hearing in January to go over the process and answer people's questions.

If voters approve a referendum in April, the boards will begin working on a co-op agreement that addresses administration, staffing, programs, finances, facilities, transportation and other matters.

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