Exeter-Milligan patrons turned out in full force to share their opinion with the school board about the topic of consolidation.
The consolidation portion of the meeting, held July 8, in the Exeter site gym, began with school board president Adam Erdkamp noting that he had been contacted by PJ O’Connor, Fillmore Central’s school board president, about doing a feasibility study with Fillmore Central.
Board member Tim Pribyl had also been contacted by a Fillmore Central school board member and noted, “They would like to do it so bad they would pay for 100% of the study. Why are we slamming the door in their face?”
Board member Dan Kallhoff added, “I think if we did it (feasibility study) with Friend we need to do it with Fillmore Central. We need to see what we would have. At least compare it, I think.”
The main point of contention among Exeter-Milligan school board members over the committee meeting with Fillmore Central was that it was just a discussion with a committee and not an offer from the Fillmore Central board.
“I agree that committees can’t make decisions. . .but it’s fair to assume committees have a pulse on where their boards are at,” noted Erdkamp.
Eric Milton, a board member and a committee member who was present at the meeting with Fillmore Central representatives added his thoughts, “I think it was pretty clear in our meeting with them. Minutes were sent to FC board president to ask for verification. I take it they were in agreement with our notes.”
Pribyl argued that Exeter-Milligan isn’t desperate to consolidate at this point in time, “Look at the census. We could make it ten years as we are. Let’s get their study done. There’s no hurry.”
Pribyl made a motion and Kallhoff seconded to accept the offer from Fillmore Central however, the motion was withdrawn after a brief discussion and protest from the crowd.
Audience member and parent, Margo Saatmann addressed the board about the options with Fillmore Central, “…you haven’t given us all the options. Do the feasibility study. Take a breath, slow down. Look at everything before you make a decision.”
The board opened the meeting for public comment and the first to speak was Taylor Slezak who was approached by a Fillmore Central school board member about the lack of interest from the Exeter-Milligan board in pursuing even a feasibility student. She encouraged the board to at least do the study and see what makes sense for the communities and the students.
Exeter-Milligan science teacher Matt Nicholas asked the question that many of the patrons were wondering about, “What happened to the coop? We were going to coop sports and now we are going to consolidate?”
Pribyl responded, “We had no interest from the public in a coop.”
Erdkamp added, “I thought we could work into a consolidation down the road. People didn’t seem for it. Sports isn’t that big a part of it. It’s about academics.”
Nicholas encouraged the board to wait until the COVID virus dies down.
Parent Jill Oldehoeft asked what the importance of deciding to go with Friend by September. (The board indicated in a packet of paperwork available to patrons at the doorway that after six regular and special board meetings the board scheduled a vote on the agreement with Friend on September 16.)
Parent and Exeter-Milligan graduate JJ Hall opened her statement asking for more transparency from the board. “I’m ok with the route this is going. Has anyone asked Dorchester why they aren’t doing anything with Friend? I think we need to look into it. It’s concerning we went from coop to consolidation. If we consolidate we are stuck, it’s done. I think we need to pump the brakes a little bit. I don’t know what the rush is to vote. Our numbers are declining but we make it work. We don’t have all the facts and we don’t have all the options.”
Many of the crowd echoed and applauded Hall’s statement asking the board to put the brakes on a vote and to examine all of the options before committing.
Parent Carol Capek noted that the packet listed all of the advantages of a consolidation with Friend but felt that a list of disadvantages should also be included. She also encouraged the board to get the information out to all of the taxpayers by mail.
Exeter-Milligan’s Family and Consumer Science teacher Mary Lou Vossler took the podium recalling that she was in the same predicament 18 years ago as Exeter and Milligan pondered a consolidation. She encouraged the audience to remember that “kids can adapt. My kids benefited so much by the merge (of Exeter and Milligan). We need to realize we need to do what is best with our kids.”
Parent Eric Johnson explained he was a member of the first class at Fillmore Central. He added that “change was tough, but change is good. We need the opportunity to look at what Fillmore Central can offer us.”
Parent and Exeter-Milligan graduate Anthony Due reminded the board what is written in the Exeter-Milligan policy that the board is “the legal agency through which the community works to provide the physical facilities, curriculum, instructional supplies and staff to enable the district’s mission and objectives :to be carried out. Give us the facts and let us vote
Exeter-Milligan Physical Education teacher Darcy White took her turn at the podium and introduced anther idea to the audience, “Why can’t we do a feasibility study with Friend, Exeter-Milligan and Fillmore Central? What is the attrition level of the Friend and Fillmore Central districts. If all of our districts are having the same problem are we going to go through this in 15 years again?”
The packet the board shared shows a chart listing the drop in students at Exeter-Milligan which started with 321 in 2002-2003 to projected enrollment for 2020-21 at 145, a 54.8% drop. Using 2019-2020 student numbers a consolidated district of Exeter-Milligan and Friend would have 369 students. The packet did not include attrition numbers for the Friend district.
Parent Megan White asked the board how the levy information in the packet works. For Exeter it shows the current levy at .06175 and for Friend the current levy is .07769 but a consolidated estimated levy would be .061333.
Sheffield offered to answer the question for the board. He explained that he and Friend Superintendent Dave Kraus estimated a budget for the consolidated district that used some of the cash on hand from each district to bring down the levy. “We have put enough money in the cash on hand because we know valuations will go down and we looked at cash on hand, and other expenditures and a few savings here and there. It would reduce some of our cash reserve. What we budget and what we spend is totally different. We budget high. If you don’t budget high you lose it,” he explained.
The packet shows that currently the two districts together are spending $8,522,671 but the estimated expenditures for a consolidated district would be $9,000,000. This graph also notes that “additional efficiencies would be experienced through employee attrition. This should reduce expenditures and possibly tax asking over time.”
Another audience member asked about how a new board would maintain a balance of members from each community. Sheffield explained that wards would be set up for the first election of the new district board but after that it would change to at large members. “There’s always been a gentlemen’s agreement that Exeter and Milligan residents would be equally represented on the board.”
Pribyl again made a motion to accept an offer from Fillmore Central to do a feasibility study and after a second from Kallhoff the board voted unanimously to pursue this avenue as an additional option.
There was no mention at the meeting that any of the future meetings would change.
The board returned to the rest of the agenda before closing the meeting.