Emotions briefly overflowed during Monday night's Committee of Ten town hall meeting.
As the March 20 election quickly approaches, the questions surrounding the proposed consolidation of the Hutsonville and Palestine school districts continue to need answers and it is the frustration with some of those answers that is causing conflict.
As voters in the two school districts go to the polls they will be asked to vote yes or no on the question of consolidation. If they vote yes they are consenting to a tax rate of 4.5398 with Hutsonville paying 4.9967 and Palestine residents paying 5.3023 with the bond rates for the respective districts added in.
Voters will also by consent establish a new board of educations through at-large voting. It will be up to the newly-elected board to make the final decision on most other issues. It is that answer that is causing much of the frustration, as no one knows who will be on the board and what decisions they will make.
The second and more personal frustration is that the individuals with the most information and valued opinions, cannot by law, give them.
Monday night's town hall meeting was the second of three scheduled by the Committee of Ten to answer questions from voters. As the meeting rolled into its second hour, the question of "are there better options?" was put directly to Palestine Board President Corie Biggs by Committee of Ten member and Hutsonville board of Education member Chad Guyer.
"Not in the works," Biggs responded. "There are four other options."
The options Biggs is referring to are cooperative, deactivation, hybrid and conversion.
In almost tag-team fashion Guyer's wife, Shannon Guyer, also asked Biggs to answer the question, accusing him of avoiding it on other occasions.
"What is your plan," she asked.
"I can't tell you that," Biggs said. "I cannot give my opinion. I am prohibited by law."
Chad Guyer continued to question Biggs: "How can you say there are better options?"
"We have looked at them conceptually, but not discussed them with others," said Biggs. "We have time to evaluate the best long-term solution."
Palestine Board of Education member Joel York also addressed the question.
"All options were discussed. None of the options on the table provided board representation of a K-12 district except consolidation," he said.
Before tempers flared to high, committee members called for succession of the discussion. Committee member Daimen Tingley reminded everyone that we are all "emotional over reaching a final decision." He also went on to remind the crowd that all options are spelled out at the Illinois State Board of Education website, and that the committee was only formed to evaluate 11e consolidation.
Biggs did say, with declining enrollment Palestine cannot continue to survive for 10 more years. "Can we survive and thrive for five more years, probably," he said.
Many previously asked questions were re-addressed or clarified during the meeting. Possible future opportunities and will the new board follow the recommendation of the committee are still unknowns, but many are reasonable guesses.
What money will be saved? The new district is expected to only need one superintendent, one unit secretary and one high school principal. Operational costs can be reduced by closing the Palestine High School building.
Faculty and staff positions will continue with attrition and need dictating employment.
The needs of special education students is dictated by law and would not see any changes in their accommodations.
In the short term both district are financially stable, but recognize they will need to make changes and cannot continue the status quo.
Based on enrollment numbers and a trend of loss of students over time, Hutsonville Superintenent Julie Kraemer believes a consolidated district can last 30 years.
Both districts are fairly even at around 300 total students currently. Kraemer believes they can create a combined district of 600 students, which is larger than either district has been on their own, lose 100 students over ten years to a population of 500, lose another 100 over the next 10 years to a population of 400 and another 100 over the next 10 years to a population of 300, where each district is now, 30 years.
She also believes, based on conversations with the Salt Fork consolidation representatives that the decline in student would slow with stability and possibly even grow.
Kraemer said she wants voters to think about what had to be cut in 2012, and asks will we have to back to that in five years.
One other question that has everyone concerned is if consolidation is not passed what might happen to the athletic cooperatives?
Kraemer said her words need to be explained in context. "With the intention of doing what is right for the kids," she said.
Kraemer has said that based on conversations, statements by Palestine board members, meetings and yes rumors, that if Palestine chooses to pursue athletic cooperatives with another district, specifically Robinson, on any level, Hutsonville would need to look at a different athletic cooperative partner for all levels.
Biggs denies those conversations have taken place and there is not a deal. They have responded positively to the Robinson school district to discuss reorganization and the 1 percent sales tax issue in the past, but those conversations are on hold until after the consolidations issue is resolved March 20.
As March 20 gets closer voters will have to make up their minds on the information available, and while they would very much like those with the most direct knowledge to tell them how to vote, those individuals, board members and administrators, are prohibited by law from campaigning one way or the other.
They can continue to provide information, as many struggle with their own convictions and conscience to adhere to the law.
There is a third town hall meeting scheduled for tonight at the Palestine Grade School beginning at 6:30 p.m.