The question of consolidation between Hutsonville and Palestine school districts moved one step closer to voters Monday night as the Committee of Ten voted to send the petition on to the Regional Superintendent of Schools.
The committee voted 9-1 to send the petition to Regional Superintendent Monte Newlin. It will then be up to Newlin to review the petition, set a date for a public hearing, then forward the petition to the State Board of Education for approval before it can be placed on the March 2018 ballot by the Crawford County Clerk.
There is still much contention over consolidation between the two district's boards, the committee and the public. At the June 19 meetings of the Palestine Unit 3 and Hutsonville Unit 1 boards, the Committee of Ten presented a petition recommending consolidation. The Hutsonville board approved sending the petition on to the Regional Superintendent, but the Palestine board voted 5-2 not to send the petition on. Approval of both boards was needed.
By law, if the Committee of Ten members still want to send the petition to the Regional Superintendent and on to the voters, each district would need to gather 50 signatures of registered voters to accompany the petition.
During Monday night's meeting it was reported that committee members from both districts had collected more than the needed 50 signatures.
The question then became, now that they could send the petition to the ROE, should they - in light of the lack of support from the Unit 3 board. Before that question could be answered, the committee needed to replace a signing member, Don Wagoner, who stepped down from the committee.
Wagoner, who is also a multi-term Unit 3 board member, said in a letter to the committee that he did not believe he could serve on the committee because the Palestine board was not supporting the petition. Wagoner's was one of the two votes for forwarding the petition in June.
According to procedure, any alternate Palestine member of the committee could replace Wagoner. Both Canda Pethtel and Robert York were at the meeting and were nominated. York was elected by paper ballot by the committee. Damien Tingley was enlisted to replace Wagoner as secretary.
Before moving to a vote of whether or not to send the petition on, the committee members voiced their own questions and comments. They also opened the floor to the public. Former Unit 3 board member Gary Buser asked "why railroad" the petition if the Palestine board does not support it. "You need to talk to them (the Palestine board members) and ask them why not," he said Buser.
Committee members say the have asked for, and not received, a definitive answer.
The other recurring question, "Is there an alternative or plan B," also came up for discussion. During the August Palestine board meeting Michelle Henninger from the State Board of Education gave a presentation on the options - which were known to both school boards prior to the creation of the Committee of Ten - including a cooperative high school. Committee members have repeatedly pointed out that they were not created to review a cooperative school or any other option, only the feasibility of consolidating the two districts.
While they have not officially reviewed the option, some committee members have explored the difference between cooperative and consolidation, and said they still believe consolidation is the better option based on the research they have done over the past year.
For nearly two hours the committee and the public discussed the issue, but it was finallyk decided that the issue needs to go to the voters.
To meet the previously established timeline to place the question on the March 2018 ballot, the petition needs to be in the ROE office by Sept. 15. If delayed it could be pushed back to the Nov. 2018 election. The committee voted 9 to 1 to move forward with the petition. The one no vote came from Hutsonville board and committee member Chad Guyer.
Guyer said he believes they are only going to get one shot at the public vote, and believes spending more time to resolve some issues and waiting until November may be more productive.
With the vote passed, the committee must now pay for the cost of filing the petition and public hearing requirements. Regional Superintendent Newlin estimates the cost of the process at $750. According to the information available, the Hutsonville Board of Education can authorized its half, $375, to be paid by the district as they voted to approved the original petition. The Palestine board cannot, and the money must come from sources associated with the Palestine Committee of Ten members.
Committee Chair Tina Callaway did say there was $260 left from the original feasibility study the committee had discussed using for marketing purposes. That money could be used by the committee, and could be applied to the petition costs. Committee member Kristie Elder said if the petition does not move forward they don't need money for marketing and recommended using them money. This would leave $115 need.
It was decided in the interest of time, and possibly as a sign of solidarity, that each member of the committee would donate $11.50 to cover the cost.
Once the petition is in the hands of Newlin, he will review it and set a date for public hearing where a court reported will officially record any testimony.