Collins-Maxwell School Board isn’t ready to agree to whole grade sharing with Baxter

Marlys BarkerTri-County
Times Editor
Collins-Maxwell School Board isn’t ready to agree to whole grade sharing with Baxter

It appears, at least for now, that future relations between the Collins-Maxwell and Baxter school districts will not involve whole grade sharing (WGS).

In the third meeting this school year between the two districts, which have shared athletics for 28 years and had been talking about other sharing possibilities, the discussion turned from one of pursuing the idea of whole grade sharing, to an expanded, more regional idea, from the Collins-Maxwell side.

Both boards were partway through a May 11 meeting in Baxter, facilitiated by Harry Heiligenthal, leadership development director for IASB, when it became apparent that the boards weren’t moving in the same direction.

Baxter Board President Jon Northrup was the first to state it outright. “Do we even have a current plan … with whole grade sharing … We, as a board, haven’t even looked at any other options with any other districts. We wanted to see what could happen here (with Collins-Maxwell).”

Baxter board member Debbie Meyer went further. “I don’t think we’re great partners… We have only looked to Collins-Maxwell, but you have looked to your neighboring districts. You were looking at Colo-Nesco, and now you’re looking at Ballard.”

Recently, Collins-Maxwell’s interim superintendent Dr. Tom Lane told his board that he had reached out to nearby school districts to look at operational sharing. He indicated that he had talked to Ballard about the sharing of leadership positions, such as superintendent and business manager.

Lane made it clear at the meeting that his allegiance is to Collins-Maxwell. He was brought in to serve that district and do what is best for that district.

“When we have an opportunity to secure talented superintendent leadership and use operational sharing,” to offset the cost and benefit a district that has thousands of dollars to cut, he said Collins-Maxwell needs to have its own voice in working with all possible partners.

“My experience has been that we’ve been good partners,” he told the Baxter board members. Everyone recognized that the athletic partnership between the districts has been very successful and long-lasting. “But I’m simply trying to serve the district I was hired to serve,” Lane said.

“I think we have a pretty talented superintendent and business manager in Baxter,” said Meyer, “so you’re leaving your partner of 28 years in a bind.”

Lane said he’d been doing a lot of research and trying to find a way to help the students of Collins-Maxwell. His research has shown that for Collins-Maxwell, pursuing whole grade sharing with Baxter, which would likely mean locating all high school students in Baxter, would be detrimental to Collins-Maxwell. Already losing a number of students each year due to open enrollment out of the district, Lane said by moving the high school to Baxter, the district, according to his research, would lose even more students, making it even harder for the Collins-Maxwell District to financially survive.

In light of this, Lane has become convinced that the way to save and strengthen Collins-Maxwell and several other smaller area school districts, Baxter included, would be to join together and create a regional school district that could sustain itself for many years into the future. He shared that he would envision a district of about a 3A size, which could attract first-class leaders and teachers, and provide the world class education that the governor wants all Iowa students to have.

Members of the Collins-Maxwell School Board indicated individually that they support this idea of looking to create a larger, regional school district, where a middle-high school facility could be built in the country somewhere central to the districts that join together in the venture; and that each of the districts could maintain its own elementary school to keep younger children closer to home.

Of the approximately 50 people in attendance at the meeting, the majority from Baxter Schools, several came forward to speak during the time for public input. One of those speakers, a man from Mingo, who open-enrolled his kids into the Baxter district, told the Collins-Maxwell Board and Lane that their idea for a new regional school is a “fantasy. It’s not going to happen,” he said. “So quit talking about it and separate (the two districts) or let’s do whole grade sharing.”

A number of others expressed frustration, including members of the Baxter school board, who said they are drawing in nearly 100 kids from outside their district every year, because people want a smaller school district for their kids.

Baxter board member Colette Kunkel said the two district’s paths aren’t quite aligned. “It’s not that we think Baxter is better than Collins-Maxwell … it’s not that. We’re just trying to strengthen our mission. And going in your direction is going to deter from what we want.” It was clear that many of the Baxter board members and community members want to maintain a quality, smaller school district.

Jason Aker, a teacher at Baxter and a CMB coach, was clearly frustrated by the discussion at the meeting. He said continuing to talk about all this was “exhausting.” In the end, he said, “I’m a proponent for Collins-Maxwell-Baxter whole grade sharing, and I think a regional school is a shot in the dark.”

Lane said what it comes down to is that whole grade sharing would have a totally different impact on each district, and the communities are in different places when it comes to how whole grade sharing would affect each of them. “This (whole grade sharing) could just be devastating for Collins-Maxwell.”