SCHOOL TO CONTINUE CONVERSATIONS ABOUT PARTNERSHIPS
JEREMY WALTNER – PUBLISHER
A second public meeting with Tom Oster has been scheduled for Wednesday, April 7 beginning at 7 p.m. in the Freeman High School gym. Like the meeting that was held on Jan. 4, the meeting will focus on what school consolidation with Marion could look like, but this time will include more details — specifically, what the financial picture could look like, said Freeman Superintendent Kevin Kunz.
“We’ve been trying to organize more information,” he told the Freeman School Board at its regular monthly meeting Monday night, Feb. 8. “The goal is to get a little more information from Marion to see what this could look like if we take it further — the big thing from a financial perspective.”
Freeman Public has been looking at a partnership with Marion since late last year and is working with Oster, who has a consulting firm and assists districts with consolidation and other long-range planning, to gather more information about the feasibility of such a move.
Marion is trying to avoid a scenario where the district is eventually forced to close because of a decline in enrollment and has approached several neighboring districts about a partnership, including Parker and Freeman Public.
One consolidation scenario that Oster outlined at the Jan. 4 meeting was that Freeman Public would maintain a K-5 and 9-12 attendance center while students in grades 6-8 would go to school in Marion.
Another option, he said, would be for Marion to maintain its school district but allow 9-12 students to attend Freeman Public. Marion would continue to receive state aid for those students but pay an agreed-upon tuition fee to Freeman Public. That could be financially advantageous to both districts, he said, because Marion could save in salary and Freeman Public could likely absorb those students without having to hire additional help.
Even if consolidation is approved by both the Marion and Freeman school districts, voters in both communities must approve the plan by a simple majority.
Members of the Freeman School Board also voiced support for continuing the conversation about an athletic partnership with Marion and Freeman Academy; the sports being considered are boys and girls basketball, volleyball, track and cross-country.
Freeman Academy, which is currently in an athletic cooperative with Marion in all sports except football, has formally asked the Freeman board to be included in the conversation about a future sports partnership. Board representatives from Freeman Academy, Freeman Public and Marion met informally to discuss the matter last month.
If the goal is to have a new cooperative in place by next school year, the plan would have to be taken up by the South Dakota High School Activities Association Board of Directors at its April meeting.
At the Feb. 8 meeting, board members strongly agreed the conversation should continue.
Board member Slade Ammann said he was “100% in favor of a three-school co-op and doing it as soon as possible and not wait.”
Board member Corey Gall and board president Kyle Weier both spoke in favor of continuing the conversation, although Weier felt that future discussions should include the full boards from all three schools, “especially if the idea is to do it by April.”
Board member Mark Miller noted there may be division in the community about a possible jump from Class B to Class A.
“I don’t know how big a deal that is, but I think there is a concern,” he said, “and also concern about driving kids back and forth. There are a lot of questions; I don’t feel great with five people making that decision. At least have a public meeting; that would be my next move.”
Kunz told the board he would see about taking the next steps.
Freeman School Board members showed enthusiastic support for a new ballfield complex proposed on the northeast portion of the district’s campus, but what, exactly, that support looks like remains unclear.
Kunz told the board that, after consulting the Department of Legislative Audit and the school attorney, the district’s best contribution could be gifting of the land to the entity overseeing the project — whoever that ends up being.
Because the project would not be directly tied to the school, any financial contribution would have to come from the general fund, and the district would have to justify the ballfields as a benefit to K-12 education.
Chris Sayler, who was at the meeting to talk about wrestling, said he would likely use the fields for PE and noted that the SDHSAA may be getting close to sanctioning girls softball, which the fields could be used for.
“I don’t know what our role is, but we need to take a role in it.” said Slade Ammann, who suggested forming a committee made up of representatives from the school board, Freeman City Council and Freeman Baseball Association/Summer Rec. “This is a win-win. Regardless of how we get it done, it needs to get done.”