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Nelson, East Coloma look to merger for stability

The Nelson and East Coloma school districts have struggled financially for the last few years – and unless they reorganize soon, they could continue to struggle in the face of slashed state aid and increased educational demands.

Both districts have chosen to pursue consolidation to form what they hope would be a new, educationally robust and financially stable school district. Officials are asking voters to support the merger.

“I think the biggest thing is just the overall stability of both districts, ... because right now, we’re teetering on the brink,” East Coloma Superintendent Kevin Andersen said.

Students from both schools could reap the benefits of smaller class sizes, more individualized instruction, and expanded programs and class offerings.

Nelson students, of which there are just 42, would move from multiple-grade classrooms (served by just one teacher) to single-grade classrooms. They would receive hot lunch. And they would have access to in-house after-school activities and sports.

East Coloma students, of which there are 241, would be in a two-track system – that is, a school that has two sections of every grade. They would see smaller class sizes and more individualized instruction. They also would be exposed to more students.

Teachers in both districts could collaborate and develop curriculum together, offer intervention programs and elective classes, and better monitor student progress. All full-time teachers in both districts would have jobs in the new district.

The new district likely will receive financial incentives from the state over the first few years after consolidation: almost $700,000 in state aid incentives, more than $325,000 to balance teacher salaries, and about $276,000 for certified staff incentives.

The incentives put the new district on more stable financial footing, officials said.

No formal support groups have advocated for consolidation. School officials in both districts support the merger, and the Whiteside County Regional Office of Education put its stamp of approval on the proposal.

No formal opposition groups have campaigned against the merger. Very few people have spoken up or asked questions at public information meetings and hearings; many who did fixated on the inevitable closure of Nelson School.

If the voters deny the merger, Nelson faces almost imminent demise.

“We will not be able to continue,” Nelson Superintendent Gregory Lutyens said. “There are so many more demands placed on us by the state and federal governments, that we will not be able to continue.

“This is the best deal that we can get for our students.”

East Coloma would likely struggle, too.

“We will survive, but it’s getting bad in a hurry,” Andersen said.

Voters will be asked not only whether to merge the two schools, but also who should serve on the seven-member, at-large board of the consolidated district.

If they approve the consolidation, candidates who seek seats on the consolidated board will take office; but voters they deny it, candidates who seek seats on their respective district boards will take office.

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