Consolidation vote slated

ARMSTRONG – Thanks to bad weather, only a small crowd turned out Wednesday for a hearing on the proposed consolidation of Armstrong-Ringsted and Sentral school districts.

But teleconferencing allowed Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency to hear arguments in favor of consolidation.

There were no objections raised by attendees in Armstrong or on the agency board to a reorganization plan put forth by superintendents Matt Berninghaus and Art Pixler.

The agency board unanimously approved putting the reorganization to a vote. Armstrong-Ringsted and Sentral district residents will decide the issue on June 25.

Because there were no formal objections raised, most of the public hearing focused on Berninghaus and Pixler explaining why the two districts would be better served merging into one.

Pixler, who serves as superintendent at Sentral, pointed out that consolidation with another district is essential.

“In 2000, we had 331 students, and for 2014, we have a projection of 149 students,” he said. “The fact is that the number of students relates to money … At some point, you can’t make any more cuts that aren’t going to hurt children’s education.”

During one of its last years as a full preK-12 district, Sentral was listed by U.S. News and World report as one as America’s best high schools. But by 2008, the district began a whole-grade sharing arrangement with North Kossuth. The district sent its high school students to North Kossuth, while hosting North Kossuth’s 6-8 grades. This year, it began three-way sharing with Armstrong-Ringsted.

Berninghaus pointed out Armstrong-Ringsted’s losses, with 111 students lost since 2000. But he pointed out benefits of the consolidation.

“We have a history of sharing with not just Sentral, but other districts,” he said, listing staff, classes and athletics.

With current whole-grade sharing, Berninghaus pointed out increased programming for academics, sports, fine arts and club opportunities for students, as well as campus improvements at Armstrong-Ringsted and Sentral. He envisions more benefits.

“We will become much more efficient,” he said. “The long-term benefits, no more uncertainity if there’s going to be a school district here.”