Moore Board votes to move forward with consolidation

By: 
JENNY GESSAMAN
Reporter

Moore School Board Chair Lisa Gilbert explains a consolidation research committee finding to the crowd at last Tuesday’s board meeting.

Photo by Jenny Gessaman

Last Tuesday, after roughly 90 minutes of discussion in a packed meeting room, the Moore School Board voted 3-2 to move forward with the Hobson-Moore consolidation process.

Over 20 residents, parents and teachers crowded in for the board’s January meeting, with many taking advantage of the agenda’s call for public comment on consolidation.

Several people asked for clarification on the consolidation’s process and timeline. Chair Lisa Gilbert clarified the consolidation timeline had changed from last fall.

Initially, the Hobson and Moore school boards each planned to vote on consolidation before the end of the 2017 calendar year. As the school year progressed, both ran into scheduling conflicts and pushed the vote into post-holiday 2018.

Gilbert added the two groups had also originally planned to vote in a joint board meeting. However, in December, the Moore School Board decided to vote on its own.

Jones emphasized the change would not rush the consolidation, if it took place.

“All I can tell you right now is, if consolidation does happen, it won’t happen before the 18-19 school year,” she said.

Several people asked what the board’s vote would be for specifically, and what the result would mean for the school and community. Moore School Board Trustee Rick Barman said the board’s vote would be whether or not to move forward with the consolidation process as outlined in state law. It was not a final decision.

Barman said the vote would not guarantee anything, and instead would move the process to its next step: a public vote in the affected school districts.

“All we’re doing is voting to take it to the registered voters,” he said.

Gilbert added even if the Moore School Board voted yes, a no vote by the Hobson School Board would end the process before a public vote. For a public vote to happen, both school boards needed to vote to move forward.

Questions about the date of the Moore School Board’s vote uncovered several issues, including what the board’s role on behalf of the community. Barman said he felt his vote should not reflect his own conclusions.

“It isn’t just my opinion,” he said. “I don’t feel like it’s just my opinion to be voting on, it’s the community’s.”

The board asked how the community felt, and attendees pointed out they weren’t a good poll; many community members were not present. Those in the lunchroom felt they didn’t know enough to make a decision. Local Tom Wichman was one of them.

“There are too many unknowns,” he said to the board. “I’ve supported consolidation for years now, but there’s a lot I don’t know, and a lot you don’t know.”

Gilbert said in the case of a public vote, the board planned to mail consolidation meeting minutes, as well as the findings from four committees who evaluated the consolidation in terms of transportation, curriculum, facilities and budget and finances, to registered voters.

Gilbert said the Moore School Board was also considering a community meeting that would end with a straw poll. The idea was the board would then vote based on the straw poll.

The meeting’s crowd discussed the logistics of such a poll, and the confusion it might create between the poll and any official public vote. The straw poll was abandoned, but community members supported the idea of community meetings and mailing out consolidation research and meeting minutes.

The public comment ended with most attendees expressing that they wanted a say in whether or not consolidation happened. Many agreed the Moore School Board’s vote was not so much to reflect the community’s opinion, as it was to move the issue of consolidation before the public.

After public comment closed, the board briefly discussed the format of any information sent to registered voters before making any motions.

Trustee Daniel Horan moved, and trustee Jerry Simpson seconded, to not go any further in the consolidation process. The motion was defeated 2-3.

Barman then moved, and Trustee Andrea Martin seconded, to move forward with the consolidation and, when and if necessary, the public vote. The motion passed 3-2.

The next Moore School Board meeting will be on Tuesday, Feb. 13, at 5:30 p.m. at Moore Public Schools.

Hobson School Board Chair Dan Thomas said his board did not have a consolidation vote during its January meeting, and didn’t set a future date for one.

“We’re just taking our time and we’re doing due diligence,” he said. “We will continue to have ongoing conversations around the topic.”

The next Hobson School Board meeting is set for Monday, Feb. 12, at 6 p.m. in the Hobson Public Schools library.

 

Consolidation concerns
The 90-minute discussion on a Hobson-Moore consolidation did culminate in a vote by the Moore School Board, but it also addressed several concerns.


• If the schools consolidate, won’t the taxpayers have to pay for ongoing projects in the other school district?
Moore School Board Chair Lisa Gilbert said this was a question people asked a lot.
“One thing I keep hearing is, ‘Will Moore voters be paying for Hobson’s gym, and Hobson voters be paying Moore’s roof?’” she said.
Gilbert said no, that would not be the case.


• How would the students be split between the Hobson and Moore facilities?
Gilbert said the four consolidation research committees generally recommended putting elementary grades in the Moore facility, and middle- and high-school grades in the Hobson facility.
“[The decision was made] purely in terms of size,” she said.
There was a split opinion on where the sixth grade would go. The Facilities Committee recommended putting the grade in Moore, while the Curriculum Committee recommended putting it in Hobson.


• If the schools consolidate, how will school sports work?
Gilbert pointed to the recommendations of the Facilities Committee. Basketball would be run roughly the same as it does now, while Hobson would take football and Moore would take track.


• Can the communities be guaranteed that what the consolidation research committees recommend is what will happen?
Gilbert said no, citing the way the consolidation process works, as well as the year-to-year change in funding for Montana schools.
“That’s the hardest part of this: We all want it to be hard and fast, and it isn’t,” she said.
While committee recommendations were well-researched, Gilbert said the post-consolidation school boards were not bound to them.
“It could all change,” she said. “I just don’t want anybody to get the feeling this is how it will be.”


• What would the school board look like for a consolidated school?
Gilbert said in its first year, the consolidated school would have a 10-member school board consisting of the two current school boards. In its second year, a new five- member board would be elected. If consolidation happens, the current school boards had discussed electing two new board members from each former district, and then one at-large board member.

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