FREEMAN PUBLIC ADVANCES THE CONVERSATION
JEREMY WALTNER – PUBLISHER
The Freeman Public School Board wants more information about what consolidation with Marion would mean for the local district — particularly as it relates to finances — and also agreed to an informal conversation about what a sports cooperative would look like, not only with Marion, but also Freeman Academy.
No action was taken on either matter, but the board agreed to take a closer look at all options during its regular monthly meeting Monday night, Jan. 11.
Here’s a breakdown of what’s on the table.
Consolidation with Marion
Monday’s meeting came one week after a special public meeting in Freeman that featured a presentation from Tom Oster on the general pros and cons of school reorganization between Freeman Public and Marion; Marion is hoping to establish a partnership with a neighboring district to avoid eventual district closure.
While that Jan. 4 special meeting provided a solid foundation as to what a partnership could mean, officials from Freeman Public agreed that more information — and a second public meeting — was needed before more decisions could be made.
“We owe it to everybody to at least explore it further to find out what the advantages are,” board president Kyle Weier said. “It would be nice if we could get more into it.”
“I think we should explore it a little farther, too,” said Corey Gall, “and see what it could do for both of our schools.”
Mark Miller said much of what he has heard is questions about financial advantages that might come with consolidation; “That’s a place we need to start,” he said.
“I’m in favor of continuing to look into it,” said Slade Ammann.
“I would agree with that,” added Cody Fransen.
Freeman Superintendent Kevin Kunz strongly recommended that Oster continue to be part of the process.
“He’s good at presenting things to the public, which we saw the other night,” Kunz told the board. “But he’s also been working with Marion for an extended period of time and knows the ins and outs.”
But Miller said Freeman Public should consider having another person involved in the process, as well.
“When two companies come together, I’ve never seen one lawyer represent both companies,” he said at Monday’s meeting. “There’s probably a conflict of interest to have one person try to be in the middle. Maybe in the future have a different person?”
“He’s not representing, he’s mediating,” responded Kunz. “He’s there to collect information and present it to us. You’re the ones who come up with a plan on your end.”
Kunz said it would likely be March before another public meeting involving Oster would happen.
Freeman Academy involvement
Monday’s meeting also included a formal request from Freeman Academy to be considered as part of an athletic partnership. Conversations up to this point about a possible sports cooperative have included only Freeman Public and Marion.
Marion and Freeman Academy have had an athletic partnership in all sports except football since 2016. Oster said at the special meeting on Jan. 4 that Marion has not renewed that co-op beyond the 2020-21 school year.
“We would like to be active participants in any active discussion taking place,” Freeman Academy Head of School Nathan Epp told the board Monday night, noting that Freeman Academy board members would be willing to meet informally with Freeman Public board members “to find out what the next steps would be.”
Epp said he couldn’t speak for the board but speculated that Freeman Academy would be open to discussing either a single sport or multiple-sports scenario, with the long-term goal of a partnership in all sports.
Miller asked Epp if the possibility of sharing resources beyond athletics — like teachers — was a possibility. Epp said that was not something that has been discussed, but the school would “not in any way be opposed to having some of those conversations.”
With Freeman Public and Marion’s ADM putting them on the cusp of playing in Class A, bringing Freeman Academy into the fold would assuredly push them over the edge.
“Is there enough public support for that?” asked Ammann, noting that Freeman Public and Marion staying Class B might “ease minds.”
“I’ve never been afraid (of Class A); the ball is still round,” said Weier. “I would not be opposed to it, but it would obviously take more public input.”
“A doesn’t bother me, but for some people that’s a big deal,” said Kunz. “That’s one of the things we’re going to battle.”
Kunz also cautioned the board that an athletic partnership that includes Freeman Academy does put Freeman Public at risk of losing students to its crosstown counterpart.
“One of the concerns I have in involving Freeman Academy is, what is that going to do to our enrollment?” he said, noting that some with ties to Freeman Academy who send their children to Freeman Public for athletics might choose Freeman Academy if sports was all one in the same.
“I don’t know, but it’s something that people need to at least consider,” he said. “I’m coming from a business perspective. I think we have to be realistic about how something like that could impact us (on the enrollment end).”
“There may be a point to that,” responded Miller, who said that, given the quality of the Freeman Academy/Marion boys basketball program, “If we were going to lose students, we would have lost them this year.”
Miller also said that Freeman Academy families are also part of the Freeman Public tax base.
“A lot of money that’s coming here is coming from the whole community,” he said. “What would it mean to have a Freeman, Freeman Academy sports co-op? What would that do for community spirit?”
Ammann spoke most forcefully in favor of a three-school sports cooperative, saying if there’s a chance of Freeman and Marion playing in Class B in the future, adding students from Freeman Academy would only be an advantage.
The board ultimately agreed to meet jointly with FA and Marion board members. Watch for more from the Jan. 11 meeting next week.