Ventura mulls whole grade sharing with G-H

by Marianne Morf
    Ventura School Board members say they have made no firm decisions, but wanted to hear the public’s response to consideration of whole grade sharing with the Garner-Hayfield School District.

    Early discussion about sharing would have each district house its own students kindergarten through sixth grade. Seventh and eighth graders from both districts would attend school in Ventura and all high school students would be in Garner.
    About 175 persons attended a community meeting Monday night, Aug. 15, hosted by the Ventura Board.  The meeting, which spanned nearly three hours, included a recap of the district’s enrollment and financial standing over the past 10 years, as well as options for the future.
    President Larry Costello, in his 35th year of service on the board, said he has been physically sickened by the realization that the district must change.
    “When I came on this board I made a promise I would fight for this school forever.  Believe me, I bleed blue and gold.  But we seriously have to consider sharing to do what’s best for the students,” said Costello.  “We would probably all prefer to stay forever as we have been, but the reality is we can’t.  The board is trying to be pro-active.”

Budget tied to enrollment
    School leaders note that like most districts, Ventura’s enrollment has been in steady decline for the past decade.  Ten years ago enrollment was about 325; today the number is 260. 
    “Enrollment drives the budget and that, along with state cuts, basically have us going backward in funding,” said former Superintendent Brian Rodemeyer.  He added that when the state eliminates its “budget guarantee” in 2014, the district will find itself operating in the red.  “The reality is, the fat has been cut.  We are basically at bare bones in terms of staff,” added Rodemeyer. 
    In the past 10 years the equivalent of 11 full-time staff and one administrator have been cut from the Ventura payroll, according to Costello.
    Board members told the audience they see three options for the future: 1) continue as they are, with more staff reductions, although by 2014 the state could force the district to close because it will not be financially stable; 2) explore whole grade sharing; 3) explore more activity sharing. He added that donors could write the district a large check, which has been done elsewhere in the state, but ultimately time and money will run out.
    In recent years the Ventura district has shared academic and athletic programs with neighboring school districts, including Garner-Hayfield and Clear Lake.  Costello noted that within two years, Ventura’s athletic conference will likely dissolve, as member schools have consolidated or entered into sharing agreements which have moved them into another conference and made them substantially larger than Ventura.  “We will be traveling at least two hours each way for games.  Do you really want your kids to get home at 12:30 a.m. on a Thursday and still have homework?  If we share with Garner, Osage is the farthest we would travel.”
    Sharing academics is more complicated, he said, because schools operate on different time schedules and travel time must be considered.
    “We’ve had great success sharing programs, academically and athletically, at Garner-Hayfield,” said Costello, adding that G-H Superintendent Tyler Williams is now shared between the districts.  

What about Clear Lake?
    Costello also reported - Read More Via e-Edition

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