Van Buren, Harmony voters to decide on merger Feb. 6

KEOSAUQUA ? Van Buren and Harmony voters will go to the polls Feb. 6 to decide whether the two school districts should become one.

A majority of voters in each district must approve the reorganization for it to happen. If approved, the new district will be called ?Van Buren County Community School District.? The ballot also includes the revenue purpose statement for sales tax funds the new district will receive.

If voters in both districts approve the reorganization, the new district would be in place on July 1, 2019. The reorganized school board would have seven members on it, with five from director districts and two at large.

The boundaries would include all of the historical territory of both districts as legally described in the published hearing decision of Great Prairie AEA.

Polling places will be open at noon and will close at 8 p.m. on Election Day at the following locations:


Harmony Community School District voters

? Bonaparte Opera House

? Farmington Community Center


Van Buren Community School District voters

? Birmingham Lions Center

? Cantril Township Hall

? Douds Community Center

? Keosauqua Senior Citizens Center

? Milton American Legion

? Stockport American Legion


Van Buren board president Andrew Lydolph said there were no plans to close the Harmony building if voters approve reorganization between Harmony and Van Buren. He noted that the Douds elementary building is already full because of enrollment increases and moving the preschool there. The district is looking at adding sections in elementary, he said.

?I can tell you right now, we probably don?t have enough room for our sixth graders at Douds,? Lydolph said. ?So I can guarantee that we cannot close the Harmony elementary right now. We don?t have room.?

?There will be students there,? Van Buren board vice president Alex Richards said.

They were answering a question from Tracy Hudson of Farmington who supports reorganization and is actively campaigning for its passage. Hudson said the most common question she gets from door knocking is the issue of the future of the Harmony building. She has been telling people that at this time, the Harmony building will stay open in the near future.


?That building can go nowhere?

?If you want us to go out and beat the drums for this and we are saying these things, I want it on the record that what I am saying to them is the truth. I realize you can?t give me 20-year predictions, but the question about what we will do about the building is the biggest issue the opposition is raising. They are saying if you vote yes, that building will close. I know you can?t give me a guarantee,? she said. ?I would say at least for the next five or six years that building can go nowhere. I tell them there?s more of a guarantee to keep the building if you vote yes than if you vote no.?

She discouraged having a bond issue immediately following reorganization to build a central campus, because she didn?t think it could pass.

?We don?t have $25 million for a bond issue,? Lydolph said.

?The ?no? people have some math skills issues right now,? Richards said.

?I can tell you, we won?t have a PK-12 center here,? Lydolph said.

?It won?t happen in 10 years,? Richards added.

?I realize that there have been people say that someday, in the future, wouldn?t that be something just like other county school districts,? said Van Buren School Superintendent Pam Ewell. ?But I haven?t heard anyone say that it?s one year, two years, five years, [or] 20 years. It would probably have to happen someday if the decline in enrollment continued like it has been. But it?s not continuing. It?s stabilized. You take a look at the last 10 years, in the first five of those years, there was a drastic decline, but that?s across the state. In the last five years, it?s stabilized and we are growing. That?s all we can say.?


Enrollment increasing

?The efforts that both districts have taken the last five years have stopped the bleed,? Ewell continued. ?Enrollment is looking better. Open enrollment out is looking better. The resident certified enrollment is increasing. Our preschool numbers are higher that we have ever been since I?ve been here. We are looking at adding more sections, not fewer, which means we are going to need all of the facilities as long as we can be financially stable.

?Gary Sinclair says the best you can forecast is five years out. Things can change, companies can close their doors. Farms can change.?

Board member Jayne Wells asked how many students the Harmony center could hold.

The best guess was around 250 to 275, according to Hudson. She also said the district could utilize the center even more.

?Those little things do big things,? Hudson said.

Teresa Green also had questions on the financial impact including taxes. She wanted to know whether the decrease in Harmony taxes is from the debt payment alone or would the reorganization make it decrease further. Reorganization would decrease taxes (see interview with Superintendent Phillips).

They also talked about the flyer that was sent out to Harmony district residents suggesting that the school did not need to reorganize, that it was solvent and could operate as a stand-alone district.

Harmony board president Dan Smith said any solvency Harmony has now is ?short term.?

If the reorganization fails, the district would be back to running deficits in a short time.

?We have run projections on that. Basically, if we don?t reorganize, it catches up to us in year three, but in year five, it shows us in the deficit again.?

? In other action, the board met with Sam Weber, who spoke on behalf of his girlfriend, Nicole Vandenberg. He was concerned that a school policy wasn?t followed. It states that if a student becomes ill or injured at school, they will make an attempt to contact parents. Also present were Vandenberg and parent, Aimee Brooks.

He said there was an ?incident that wasn?t handled with the seriousness it deserved.?

Board president Andrew Lydolph said, ?we can?t address it tonight, we can gather more information.?

Board member Jayne Wells acknowledged that there is a process to be followed for complaints before the board becomes involved, but wondered if they had already done that since they were at the board meeting.

?There?s a process in filing complaints,? Ewell said. ? I haven?t seen anything in writing from them. It needs to start with Mr. Banks.?

?We can?t deliberate. But all I can say is that since it has been brought to the school board?s attention, we can start asking questions,? Lydolph said.

? The board voted to approve the purchase of AVG anti-virus software protection for computers, at a cost of $6,207.99.

? The board voted to go into closed session twice. The first was to review or discuss records which are required or authorized by state or federal law to be kept confidential or to be kept confidential as a condition for that governmental body?s possession or continued receipt of federal funds. The second closed session was to discuss the purchase of real estate.

? Superintendent Ewell presented information on transportation costs per student. The state median average was $385 in fiscal year 2017. For Van Buren, it was $773. However, this was much less than in fiscal year 2015, when it was $965 per student. Van Buren?s ranking in cost per student is 12th in the state.

In fiscal year 2015, about 15 percent of the regular program budget was spent on transportation. This has decreased to 11.7 percent in 2017. The state median average is 5.8 percent..

? The board heard a report from Kris Rankin on the Snowball Dance Party for elementary age students, February 10, with the proceeds going for after prom. The board voted to allow this fundraiser. All voted yes, except Alex Richards and Jayne Wells, who both abstained.

? In other consent agenda items, the board discussed a public conduct on school premises policy.

? The board voted in a special session January 12 to authorize the superintendent to make any additional school calendar changes if needed because of weather conditions.