Collins-Maxwell board vetoes whole grade sharing with Baxter, approves operational sharing with Ballard

Marlys BarkerTri-County
Times Editor

The tears in Collins-Maxwell Board member Jen Waters’ eyes said it all as a unanimous vote Monday approved discontinuing any conversations about whole grade sharing (WGS) with Baxter.

It’s been a long and emotional year for the Collins-Maxwell Board members as they’ve sat through meetings with Baxter’s board to talk about whole grade sharing, suffered the sudden loss of their superintendent under less-than-ideal circumstances and dealt with a multitude of opinions circulating on social media about what is the right thing to do for the students of the district and the communities involved.

“I hope you saw how hard that was,” interim C-M Superintendent Dr. Tom Lane said, immediately following the vote. “I think there’s not a one of us who could stop from getting emotional… I have the greatest respect for these folks (the board members), and I hope you do too.”

There were applauds from the packed room, most of whom, but not all, spoke out earlier in the meeting against a WGS agreement with Baxter, despite knowing that the Baxter School Board has threatened to end the two schools’ long-standing sports agreement, if WGS wasn’t approved.

In voting down WGS talks with Baxter, however, each Collins-Maxwell Board member stated publicly that he or she still wishes to honor and continue the sports sharing agreement.

“This is probably one of the hardest decisions we’ve made,” said Board Vice President Brad Plunkett. “We went into this thing (looking at whole grade sharing with Baxter) exploring… I think we’ve explored it. I don’t think it’s the best for Collins-Maxwell to whole grade share with anybody.” But, Plunkett added, “I am 100 percent behind continuing honoring our commitment to sports sharing (with Baxter).”

Marcus Fricke, the first board member to speak before taking the vote, talked about how he put Collins-Maxwell as the first priority in making his decision. He talked about the approvals the board has made recently for new reading curriculum and better staff development training, calling some of those things “low hanging fruit,” that is within the district’s reach for improvement.

Just prior to the WGS vote, the Collins-Maxwell Board also unanimously approved an operational sharing agreement with the Ballard School Board, which will include sharing a superintendent and curriculum director for the coming school year.

Lane said the decision against WGS - which would have put all high school students from both districts in one community and all middle school students in another - ultimately came down to finances and the amount of money C-M could lose from students who would likely open enroll out if such a decision was made.

Lane said leadership matters, and one of his hopes is to make sure the Collins-Maxwell district has solid central office leadership in a nonthreatening opportunity. He said the Ballard School Board had already unanimously approved the operational sharing positions.

“We’re getting top-notch superintendent leadership and top-notch learning instruction (curriculum director),” Lane said, and the total cost of both positions, when you factor in what the school will receive in operational sharing incentives, is $7,500 a year, compared to the $160,000 that the district was paying for a full-time superintendent when the previous full-time superintendent was on board.

Lane said the operational sharing agreement is for one year, and would have to be approved again in March, by both districts, to go forward another year. “This isn’t a long-term solution; it helps us in the short-term,” Lane said, while the district continues to study other sharing possibilities for the long-term.

Also approved at Monday’s meeting was to set up professional development time each week, therefore having early outs every Tuesday in the coming school year. On those days, the shared curriculum director will be at Collins-Maxwell to provide leadership in that development instruction. “Every good school district I know … has implemented a one-day a week early dismissal for teachers to spend time in professional development,” Lane said.

Other important approvals Monday were:

• for the board to continue to work with Gary Sinclair, senior financial consultant of PMA Financial Network, on a five-year financial plan, which can be updated as each year progresses. Lane turned to Sinclair this year to help get a clear financial picture of the Collins-Maxwell District, and Sinclair offered his services free for this school year. In continuing, the district will pay PMA $7,500 a year to update the plans.

• for the board to work with the IASB on a complete policy review, which is sorely needed. Lane pointed out that when Doug Miller was superintendent, the policies were updated and reviewed as they needed to be, but since Miller left, nothing has been done. The board will pay $750 for help going through all the policies and making the necessary updates in the coming year.

Lane announced that Monday’s meeting was his last regular board meeting as the interim superintendent. He said that while Monday’s issues were highly emotional, he appreciated the civility that those in attendance displayed toward one another. “And I appreciate the civility you’ve had toward me,” he said. He noted that he believes Collins-Maxwell is poised for a renaissance, and he wants the district to call on him when needed during the coming school year. “I want to be sure I can be part of a solution,” he said. “I think we’ve taken a lot of positive steps.”