The Exeter-Milligan school board has spent the last year searching for answers to their declining enrollment. The district explored a consolidation with Friend, where they already coop football and FFA together and share a science teacher.
At the height of the discussions with Friend close to 100 community members attended the July 2020 school board meeting urging the board to explore other options including the feasibility of consolidation with Fillmore Central.
The Exeter-Milligan school board held a special meeting Tuesday night to hear the results of the feasibility study with Fillmore Central school district with just 11 guests present. Presenting the program were First National Capital Markets representatives Matt Fisher and Carl Dietz.
Fisher began with a discussion on population and enrollment numbers. The bottom line is that both numbers are decreasing in each community and the increase in average age reflects fewer school aged children.
Their predictions show that Exeter-Milligan would lose about 11 students over the next 10 years. While Fillmore Central would lose some, approximately 54, it would not be as significant. Ten years down the road they estimate EM enrollment at 132 and FC at 520.
The study showed where a consolidation could save money, in curriculum, more specifically in teachers.
Maintaining two Kindergarten through fourth grade sites and combining at the middle school level would allow for the reduction of two staff members. They explained that by moving to a single elementary site there would be the possibility for further reductions.
Fisher noted “Their(FC) elementary is full and they don’t have the ability to have a K-6 in a self-contained setting like you do.”
At the middle school and high school level there would be at least a loss of six teachers. “Both districts have very well rounded course offerings right now. . .Exeter-Milligan students would have an advantage in having multiple opportunities to choose different courses throughout the day, “ explained Fisher.
Using the Exeter-Milligan average teacher salary, including benefits, the estimates of savings for teacher and staff with a merged district would be $1.24 million.
Before a consolidation could happen the two boards would have to “take a look at the staff and figure out what staff can do what and look at policy to decide who stays,” Fisher added.
According to Deitz and Fisher one of the biggest drawbacks in the Exeter-Milligan scenario is the separated elementary. This “limits collaboration between teachers. You are in a structure that makes it difficult to have that collaboration between teachers we like to see.”
At the February regular board meeting Exeter-Milligan Superintendent Paul Sheffield and Principal Laura Kroll shared a plan with the board to close the Milligan campus at the conclusion of the current school year.
Deitz and Fisher also discussed facilities maintenance and repair and replacement projections. Using numbers from each superintendent the estimates are that Exeter-Milligan looks to spend $1.386 million on both campuses and Fillmore Central estimates $672,000.00. Both districts have an ADA accessible playground on their plan.
Deitz did note that the newest building between the two districts is right at 50 years old.
Transportation was briefly discussed but the report has no estimates as to what the cost or savings would be.
A combined valuation of the two districts would be in excess of 1.5 billion. The estimated levy with a combined district would be .6381 while currently Fillmore Central patrons are at .6489 and Exeter-Milligan are at .6193.
At every point the study emphasized that having two campuses makes for higher costs.
The report gave several options to help the districts save money including merging and operating four buildings (one in Exeter, one in Fairmont and two in Geneva), merge and build a new elementary and middle school building, continue as separate districts but close the Milligan building, continue as separate districts but Fillmore Central moves to one K-12 building and finally the possibility of building a practice gym at the Fillmore Central high school site.
“Obviously if you want to save money you merge and you also provide opportunities for your students. But there are so many other factors. . ..You have a double whammy – you have low enrollment and double sites. You are in a good financial position.”
“Outsiders can say it’s an easy decision but it’s not,” added Deitz.
The board did not have much response to the study. They did not discuss any plans to meet with the Fillmore Central school board. The EM board is scheduled to meet on Wednesday, March 10 in Exeter.
Sheffield summed up the results of the study, “To achieve substantial savings will also include the loss of local jobs, people within the community, and a local school presence. The patrons will need to decide which avenue is best for Exeter-Milligan.