By Katie Dahlstrom
Herald Staff Writer
Newly elected members of the Easton Valley School Board discussed critical decisions Monday night regarding who and what principles will guide them as they navigate the merger of the Preston and East Central school districts.
The meeting was the first for the seven members, who were selected by voters last week. Richard Keeney of Miles, Jodi Meyer of Sabula, Roger Kilburg of Miles and Tom Feuerbach of Preston, Ronald Regenwether of Spragueville, Craig Thines, of Preston and Lance Abernathy of Sabula took their first actions as members of the Easton Valley School Board.
“This is really a historic night,” Glenn Pelecky, chief administrator for the Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency, said. “This community has come a long ways to get to this point. You will find out tonight you have a long way to go.”
Pelecky was the one who called the first board meeting to happen Monday night at Preston Town Hall. Approximately 60 members of the public attended the landmark gathering.
The results of last week's election were canvassed prior to the meeting, making the results official.
After taking their oaths, board members unanimously approved the election of Thines as board president. Thines is the current president of the Preston School Board.
“I think for the interim first year it would be very important to have someone who has been a school board president,” Keeney, who nominated Thines said.
Once Thines took his oath, he asked fellow board members if they had a nomination for vice president. Feuerbach nominated Abernathy to which the board unanimously agreed.
The election of officers was the only action the board took during the meeting.
However, the other items they discussed were substantial no less.
Among the items discussed was the matter of hiring a superintendent, both acting and permanent, as well as how the new district would pay for one.
According to Pelecky, merged districts usually handle the financial aspect of a new superintendent in one of two ways.
First, and most commonly, he said, the districts split the costs. The district could also ask the AEA to cover the costs initially, with repayment occurring once the Preston and East Central school districts are dissolved and the Easton Valley School District takes control of its funds.
“Talk to the two existing superintendents not only to gauge their interest in that position, but to talk to them about any possible interested candidates in the area,” Pelecky said. “I think your acting superintendent process will not be as difficult or daunting as it appears.”
As part of the merger, the two existing school boards will work together to discuss what to do with assets and liabilities. The law does allow for arbitration if the boards cannot agree, AEA attorney Mikkie Schiltz explained.
Some questions had previously been raised about high school textbooks the East Central Board chose to sell to the Northeast schools and whether or not the new board can do anything to assure the existing boards don’t take any action detrimental to the new district. While the Easton Valley School Board has no oversight of the existing boards, Pelecky said he is confident the leaders of those districts will not take any harmful actions.
“With my conversations with both superintendents, they are both intending to do what’s best for Easton Valley,” Pelecky said.
The board members also discussed matters of creating director districts, which the AEA will assist with, and teacher and administrator contracts.
As of the third Tuesday in January, all continuing contracts from the teachers and administrators in both Preston and East Central are assumed by the Easton Valley school board. The district has to inform teachers of its intentions with contracts by April 30. When the districts officially come together, the union of the Preston district becomes the collective bargaining unit of all teachers in the new district.
Also pressing was the matter of the whole grade sharing agreement between East Central and Northeast School District.
Pelecky said the district is in uncharted waters when it comes to the whole grade sharing agreement. He advised the board to take up the issue with the current superintendents soon.
“My advice is to, one of those first visits that you also have with the two superintendents, is talk about the whole grade sharing agreement that currently is in operation with the East Central schools and have that conversation out of fairness to that district as well as Northeast District. Because there’s a large number of dollars involved in that sharing agreement,” Pelecky said. “You also need to look at it from your perspective. What advantages to Easton Valley students will that whole grade sharing have as a conversation for Easton Valley and what advantages might it not have.”
The current whole grade sharing agreement contract is up for an automatic three-year renewal if the East Central Board does not make a decision by Dec. 15. With the looming deadline, the board members agreed they should talk to the superintendents and scheduled another meeting tentatively for 5 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 12, at Preston Town Hall to discuss the whole grade sharing agreement.
“We have a lot of decisions ahead of us,”Abernathy said. “I'm excited to be a part of it.”