IN SUMMARY: SPORTS DEAL IN LIMBO
JEREMY WALTNER – PUBLISHER
An all-sports cooperative between Freeman Public, Marion and Freeman Academy took a step forward Monday night, Jan. 10 when the Freeman Public School Board voted 4-1 to approve a proposal presented by its own task force.
But what will ultimately happen remains in question based on the response from the other two governing boards:
Also Monday, the Freeman Academy Board of Directors voted to table the issue because it wants more time to consider the proposal.
Then on Tuesday, the Marion School Board deferred action on the proposal in hopes of negotiating the terms. Marion officials felt like the process should have been treated more like “a partnership” and less like “a takeover.”
Under the proposal put in place by a Freeman Public task force established last summer to explore a partnership with neighboring districts:
Football: Freeman Public would host three games and Marion would host one, with playoff games at Freeman Public. Practices would be split 50/50 between Freeman Public and Marion. At the junior varsity and junior high level, Freeman Public and Marion would each host two games and practices would be split 50/50;
Basketball and volleyball: Freeman Public would host seven games, Marion two and Freeman Academy one. Playoff games would be at Freeman Public and practices would be split 50/50 between Freeman Public and Marion;
Soccer: Freeman Academy would host all home matches;
Cheer: Still to be decided;
Everything else: In all other sports and at all levels — wrestling, track, cross-country, golf and softball (after it is sanctioned in 2023) — all practices and competitions would be held at Freeman Public.
The proposal also includes the caveat that consolidation between Freeman Public and Marion would be discussed beginning in the summer of 2023, with a public vote of the two tax bases in November of that year.
Because Freeman Academy’s board meetings are not open to the public, The Courier can’t report on the specifics of what was discussed Monday night. But Epp was forthcoming with the board’s ultimate decision — that it didn’t have as much to do with the proposal itself as it did the lack of input from the Freeman Academy board.
“It needs to feel more like a process,” Epp said.
At Freeman Public, the discussion Monday night was largely in favor of moving forward with the three-school cooperative as presented by the task force, which included two board members, staff and students from Freeman Public and at-large community members.
The only dissent came from board member Slade Ammann, who cast the lone “no” vote and spoke out strongly against the need for a sports cooperative. He said the district’s recent surge in enrollment — a trend that is expected to continue — doesn’t make sports cooperation a priority at this time.
“Did the committee take into consideration how many more students we have now than we did a year ago, or even three years ago and why we even need the sports cooperative anymore?” he said, noting that Freeman Public’s ADM in 2016-17 was 303 and this year stands at 382, and that enrollment is up 50 students in just the past year.
“And we still need a sports co-op?” he said. “I’m going to have to disagree with the committee on that.”
Monday’s meeting of the Freeman Public School Board can be viewed on the school’s YouTube channel.
For Marion, which has been in a sports cooperative with Freeman Academy since 2016, its primary grievance was that the proposal handed to them at a task force meeting Wednesday, Jan. 5 wasn’t the agreement that had been talked about in two previous meetings. Rather than the closer 50/50 split they were expecting, the proposal gave Freeman Public the vast majority of the games in girls and boys basketball and volleyball — seven home games for Freeman Public, two for Marion and one for Freeman Academy.
Marion school officials used the words “hijacked” and “taken over” to describe how they felt.
Marion School Board President Larry Langrock said he asked about the change at that Jan. 5 meeting and was told, “this is what it was going to take to pass the Freeman board,” he said. “It was a short meeting.”
Several board members also said they don’t like the fact that the proposal ties Marion to a consolidation discussion — and vote of the community — in the summer and fall of 2023.
The Marion School Board has also been in conversations with Parker about a co-op. While their closest neighbor just down the road to the east was open to the idea, school officials there have been up front with Marion that it would likely be a 65/35 split when it comes to games and practices, and that Parker would retain its school colors and “Pheasants” brand.
While the Marion board and constituency isn’t happy with the proposal handed to them by the Freeman Pubilc task force, the majority of the board agreed they wanted to keep the dialogue open with Freeman Public — with whom Marion has a 30-year partnership in wrestling — and respectfully close the door on Parker.
“We owe it to everybody to show which way we want to go,” said Marion School Board Member Scott Tieszen. “My vote would be to head toward Freeman.”
“We’ve gone both ways long enough,” Langrock said.
Marion agreed to reach back out to Freeman and see if there was any room for compromise in the proposal.
“All we can do is tell them where our board is at and the chips will fall where they’ll fall,” said Tieszen. “If we are going to go to Freeman and send out an olive branch, it’s, ‘We still want to negotiate. If you want to get football in for next year, let’s see how serious you are about talking. If you want to push it off, then we end these talks and start working toward next year — again.’”