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In front of a crowd of about 40 people gathered at Brandon School last Wednesday, Mark Westby, superintendent for both Brandon and Evansville School Districts, hosted an informational meeting and answered several questions about the proposed consolidation of the school districts. Residents in both districts will have the opportunity to vote "for" or "against" the consolidation during a special election on June 25. (Photo by Amy Chaffins)

To merge or not to merge

News Alexandria,Minnesota 56308 http://www.echopress.com/sites/default/files/styles/square_300/public/fieldimages/8/0824/nbrev0522132752.jpg?itok=eMFs7teI
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To merge or not to merge
Alexandria Minnesota 225 7th Ave E
P.O. Box 549
56308

On Tuesday, June 25, voters in the Brandon and Evansville school districts will be asked to decide if the two school districts should consolidate into one.

A special election ballot will ask whether a voter is "for" or "against" consolidating the districts. The ballot question must pass by a majority in both districts. If it passes in both districts, the merger would be effective July 1, 2013.

School boards in both districts have cited that they've successfully combined the middle and high schools already so it seems like a natural progression to move to entirely consolidate. Plus, the consolidation would reportedly help maintain and improve the financial viability of the school districts.

But before the vote, several community information meetings have been held to answer questions residents may have.

Last Wednesday, about 40 people gathered at Brandon School where Mark Westby, superintendent for both Brandon and Evansville School Districts, hosted an informational meeting.

Westby offered information on:

--Tax levy impact: The estimated tax impact for residents would increase for Brandon property owners and decrease for Evansville property owners. For example, a taxpayer with a home market value of $100,000 in Brandon currently pays about $147 per year on an existing school levy and taxpayers in Evansville pay $353 per year.

If the consolidation is approved by voters, taxes in Brandon would increase by about $40 per year and taxes in Evansville would decrease by $166 per year.

--New school board: If consolidation is approved by voters, both school boards - 14 people total - would remain intact until December 31, 2014. At that time, six terms would expire and three at-large members would take office, bringing the board to a total of 11 members serving. Then, after December 31, 2016, eight school board members' terms would expire and four at-large members would be elected, bringing the total number of board members down to seven people by January 1, 2017.

--Employee impact: Because the districts have collaborated over the years, it was noted that the districts have been able to provide most of the teaching staff with full schedules. The consolidation would also allow for balancing out class sizes and an improved learning environment. Four teachers who attended the Brandon informational meeting agreed that the merger would be a benefit to allow them more one-on-one time with students. Teacher contracts would be negotiated as they have been and Westby said no staff would be negatively affected by the merger.

--Buildings: A couple people at the meeting asked who would pay for building and campus maintenance. Westby said any decisions about buildings, relocation or other facility-related decisions would be made by the new, consolidated school board. The same applies to decisions on student transportation.

'DO WE REALLY NEED EACH OTHER?'

Westby told the group: "The question I hear out and about is 'Do we really need each other?' Well, we need each other because most of our revenue is generated off of the number of students we have. So, we lose students, we lose money. Our goal is to take the kids we have and hopefully attract a few kids. How do we do we do that? The number one way is to have quality teachers. And to attract quality people you make sure they understand you have positions available into the future. We don't want them to come into Brandon and Evansville and say, 'Oooo, the situation looks iffy. I won't apply here.' We have a quality staff now and we want to keep a quality staff into the future."

If consolidation is not supported by voters, the school boards have vowed to "... continue with our current pairing agreement."

Amy Chaffins
Amy Chaffins is a journalist working for the Echo Press newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota.
(320) 763-3133
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