The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

June 17, 2013

More than Paint: School districts prepare to merge as Easton Valley

By Katie Dahlstrom
Herald Staff Writer

PRESTON — Members of the Preston and East Central communities are preparing for the major change of their districts becoming one. As of late, those preparations involved gallons of orange and grey paint.   

Volunteers from all three of the communities that make up the Easton Valley School District gathered at Preston schools on Friday and Saturday to paint the school River Hawks colors.

As students, teachers and parents pushed rollers covered in paint across the walls of Preston High School, they didn’t see themselves merely covering Trojan red and black. They were adding an element of reality to the existence of the Easton Valley School District, which will be official July 1.

“It’s starting to seem more real now that the colors are on the wall,” art teacher Denise Larson said as she coated the locker room wall with orange paint.   

They painted locker rooms, doors and various other spaces in the colors that members of the new district chose earlier this year. Similar painting will occur at East Central buildings so once students enter their schools this fall, it won’t be as Trojans or Raiders, but River Hawks.   

“All the red is going away, but you have to look at it as progress,” Athletic Director Dan Beck said.

Easton Valley has been a contentious subject in the Preston and East Central districts for several years. The Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency first authorized a public vote on the merger in June 2010 after receiving a petition for reorganization. The East Central School Board then filed a lawsuit, claiming the agency did not have the authority to call for a vote.

The Iowa Supreme Court then affirmed the Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency did not exceed its authority in authorizing the public vote.  

Voters in September chose to merge the Preston and East Central school districts into Easton Valley. The official count was 620 votes in favor and 598 against the merger in the East Central district. In Preston, the measure passed 776 to 122.

Since then, board members have been elected, decisions regarding administrators, budgets and buildings have been made and other school district business has been conducted. However, with another two weeks before the new district officially assumes Preston and East Central’s former roles, members of the Easton Valley community said thinking about the new district remains surreal.  

“It’s kind of like a dream come true for us because we’ve been fighting for this for the past three years,” said Lorie Kilburg, whose husband Roger is on the Easton Valley Board. “You have little things that make you realize it’s real, like registration and getting information on the official Easton Valley letterhead. This is another one of those things.”  

Easton Valley School Board member Tom Feuerbach, a Preston alumnus, also was among those painting. He said watching the new colors cloak the old struck an emotional chord.  

“You hear comments about a little tear in the eye, but people are really excited for the future. It’s a change. It’s moving forward,” Feuerbach said.

Not all of the district’s complex issues have been resolved. While district officials are readying for the inaugural school year, they are still locked in a legal battle with the Northeast School District over a whole-grade sharing agreement that allowed seventh- through 12th-grade students from East Central to attend classes at Northeast.

Still, Feuerbach feels a lot of the tension between members of the communities that will share the new district has dissipated. In its place he sees a sense of pride for Easton Valley.  

“I really can’t believe the amount of support and enthusiasm we see. All you see anymore is orange and grey. I think the healing process has gone on a lot faster than I thought. You have some people who will take their bitterness to the grave, but mostly people are really supportive,” he said.