Fairfield Ledger

Mt. Pleasant News   Wash Journal
Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 20, 2018

Petition to put Van Buren, Harmony school reorganization on ballot

By Rusty Ebert, Ledger correspondent | Sep 20, 2017

KEOSAUQUA — Van Buren and Harmony Community School Districts are more than halfway to getting the qualified number of signatures on a petition to put a reorganization issue on the ballot, according to Van Buren Superintendent Dr. Pam Ewell and Harmony Superintendent Kerry Phillips.

Before reorganization of the two districts can happen, a majority of voters in each district must approve it during a special election.

To get it on the ballot, there must be a certain number of signatures on a petition in each district, Ewell said.

Both districts said there seems to be a misconception among residents that “reorganization is a done deal,” officials said.

The action that both boards took last month, was to agree on a name of the new district that would be put on the petitions and ballot.

“The public still has to vote,” Ewell said.

Twenty percent of the registered voters must sign the petition in each district, according to officials.

For Van Buren, that’s 400 and for Harmony, it is 336.

A total of 300 signatures has been recorded in the Van Buren district and 148 in Harmony.

A vote is planned for February 6, 2018.

Board members and officials have been canvassing the area, often going door to door to get the signatures. Public forums have been held throughout each district, as well.

On September 13, a forum was conducted at the Township Hall in Cantril, with members of both boards present. About 10 citizens also were present, with Grassroots serving a meal.

Ewell told those present why reorganization is vital for both districts.

She said declining enrollment, dwindling resources and other financial pressures have hit rural districts like Van Buren and Harmony.

Harmony has 100 students open enrolled out and Van Buren around 80. Reorganization might help to stem that tide.

She said reorganization “maximizes resources and will work to provide a high quality, 21st Century Education.”

She said through sharing that is currently underway, including whole-grade sharing, more than 43 new courses have been offered to students during the past four years. In addition, she said, there have been successes both academically and in extra-curriculular areas for the districts.

Ewell said that reorganization will help teacher leadership development and building improvements.

She said that state incentives to reorganize will total $3.4 million over the next four or five years.

Property taxes will be lowered, as the state incentives will lower the property tax rate for a while during the transition and the tax asking should continue to be lower for district residents.

That’s already taking place now at Harmony, according to Dan Smith, board president.

“Harmony paid off its general obligation bond which should lower property taxes significantly,” Smith added.

Van Buren Board President Rick Plowman added, “very few times we can go to property taxpayers and tell them if you vote for this your property taxes will go down and moneys for kids will go up.”

Some of the public forum dealt with open enrollment and whether there was any way to stop that.

“If anything, the trend is for more choices, not less,” said Ewell.

Van Buren board member Jayne Wells said in the last few years, open enrollment has pressured districts to give more opportunities to students. She cited the 43 new course offerings at Van Buren as an example.

“One of the goals of reorganization is to strengthen and stabilize student enrollment now and for the future,” Ewell said.

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