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Nelson parents briefed on possible merger

Worry about teachers, taxes, time with students dominates discussion

NELSON – Nelson school district parents asked Monday whether their students would receive individual attention at East Coloma, what their new tax rate would be, and whether Nelson teachers would lose their jobs if the two districts were to merge.

The districts hired consultant Bob Rogers to study the feasibility of a reorganization of the districts. Rogers, who is recommending consolidation, gave a presentation Monday night at Nelson and will give another tonight at East Coloma.

About 20 parents, along with some of their children, attended.

Nelson has 41 K-8 students, which Superintendent Gregory Lutyens said he believes is the lowest school district enrollment in the state. East Coloma had 244 students at the beginning of this school year.

“All this financial mumbo jumbo ... what’s going to happen to our teachers?” parent Nicholas Parker asked.

“All our [full-time] teachers will have jobs” at East Coloma, Lutyens said.

Nelson’s current tax rate of $2.86 per $100 of a home’s equalized assessed valuation would rise slightly, to $2.87, if the districts were to merge, Rogers has said. Residents in the East Coloma district have a tax rate of $3.2798, which would remain the same, he said.

Brandy Stern, 36, said she is “all for” consolidation, but she wants the districts to wait until her 12-year-old, Taylor, graduates from Nelson.

Nelson is the only school she knows of where kindergarten students can talk to eighth-graders and get to know the older students, she said.

Tammy Norman, 47, of Harmon, said her children, who now attend Nelson, used to attend East Coloma. Her sons received one-on-one attention at East Coloma, she said.

“It’s a good district. They recognize their needs and work with them.”

Her son Aaron Wolf, 10, a Nelson fourth-grader, said he would like the districts to merge.

“I like the bigger classrooms” and would like to have more classmates, he said.

The newly reorganized district would receive up to $1,296,052 in state incentives over 4 years, Rogers said. Of that, $694,152 would be to make up for the dip in general state aid that the new district would face.

Lutyens and Rogers, along with Whiteside Regional Superintendent Bob Sondgeroth, drove the point home that the two districts, which have struggled financially, cannot continue to operate as they do, so a reorganization of some sort is inevitable.

Acting now is in the best interests of the local residents, so they can decide how the reorganization is done, they said.

“It’s going to happen sooner or later,” Sondgeroth said. “Would you rather be on the bus or under the bus?”

Rogers said the state has the power to shut down Nelson at any time because Lutyens has been interim superintendent longer than the 2 years school districts are legally allowed to employ interim superintendents. Lutyens works for the school district 100 days a year.

“If the state ever really wanted to shut you down, all they’d have to do is go to the [Illinois] Department of Education, and say, ‘That’s an illegal district. Shut them down,’” Rogers said.

Lutyens reminded the parents that “I’m not going to last forever.”

The consolidation could happen as soon as fall 2013 if the April election includes the election of board members for a new, consolidated school district, Rogers said.

The consolidation would have to be approved by voters, the Whiteside County Regional Office of Education, and the state Board of Education before it becomes official.

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