On Monday night the Decorah Community and North Winneshiek School Boards held a joint session to discuss the next steps in a potential reorganization for the school districts. Danielle Haindfield, attorney from Ahles & Cooney, who represents both districts, outlined the steps.
The first step will be for both boards to authorize legal counsel to begin preparation of a petition for reorganization for an election to be held February 6th, 2018. Both boards are expected to do so this month.
The petition will then be developed jointly by the boards. It will need to: comply with Keystone Area Education Association plans; include a legal description of the proposed new district; provide for the division of assets and liabilities; include the name of the new district and provide the number of directors and method of their election. It may include issues related to PPEL levies and Revenue Impact Statements if those are to be included in the February 2018 election. The petition will need to be signed by the smaller of: 1) 20 percent of the eligible voters in each district, or 2) 400 eligible voters from each district.
After that the petition would go to Keystone Area Education Association for review. They would provide an opportunity for objections and a hearing. Then their 9-person board would make a decision on the petition and, if it approves the petition, would set the February 2018 election date.
The February 2018 election date would allow a time window for two potential votes to approve the reorganization prior to the end of whole grade sharing agreements and the proposed reorganization date of July 1st, 2019.
Questions about options and the impact of a failed vote were discussed. It was noted that failed votes would likely lead to forced dissolution of the North Winneshiek School District after negative balances occurred. Such an action, after review by the Iowa State Budget Review Committee, would essentially take all the control away from the North Winneshiek School District residents. Reorganization with Decorah would be more favorable in terms of taxation for North Winneshiek residents, provide them input into a new district, and allow potential for protection of existing teachers.
If the reorganization is approved, both existing boards would exist until July 1, 2019. But a new five-person interim board would also be established. It would, by statute, be representational of both the districts – meaning four members would be from the old Decorah District and one from North Winneshiek.
About 30 people attended the meeting Monday night. Their most apparent concern was regarding the ability of North Winneshiek students to open enroll in the Mabel-Canton Schools (see related story).