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Morris Area School Board offers preliminary support for consolidation plan with Cyrus

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news Morris, 56267
Morris Minnesota 607 Pacific Avenue 56267

MORRIS - The Morris Area School Board voted to support a plan to consolidate with the Cyrus School District at a meeting on Monday, Oct. 19, provided the plan addresses what will happen if special legislation that would allow the Cyrus district to take out loans to pay off their existing debt and the cost of demolishing the Cyrus school building is not approved by the state legislature.

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School Board Chair Kurt Gartland was the most vocal advocate for addressing the "what ifs" in the consolidation plan, or plat.

"I don't want our Morris district's residents to be liable for those [costs]," said Gartland.

School board member Dick Metzger agreed, noting that there should be language in the plat that ensures the cost of demolishing the building did not fall to Morris taxpayers.

The preliminary plat also stipulates that Cyrus residents will initially take on 3.48 percent of Morris' existing building referendum, a percentage based on the number of Cyrus students in the newly-created district. Cyrus residents will gradually take on more of that debt over time.

However, the existing debt and building demolition are not the only issues that are still being worked out through the potential consolidation.

In this third story about a potential consolidation, we'll look at two important remaining issues - how district staff will be combined and how the school board will be reorganized - as well as the timeline for moving forward.

Combining district staff

One of the key issues for both districts during a joint work session at the beginning of October was what would happen to staff in both districts.

The current Cyrus school district has the option to offer severance packages to both licensed and non-licensed staff before the potential consolidation.

If licensed staff (teachers, primarily) accept the severance offer, then they are no longer guaranteed a place on the seniority list for the combined school district. If they do not accept the offer, they will be absorbed into the current Morris teacher's seniority list based on rules in state statute.

Non-licensed staff, on the other hand, do not have a guaranteed place in the new combined district if they do not accept a potential severance offer.

At the joint work session, Morris Area School Board Chairman Kurt Gartland said he would like the Cyrus district to require staff to respond to the severance offer by early in 2013 so the districts would know those results before taking a final vote on the consolidation.

"We need to know to be able to justify to the community members who ask," said Gartland.

After the consolidation, the new district also has the option of putting together early retirement or other incentive packages to try and manage the combined district staff.

School Board reorganization

If the two districts consolidate, the school boards will have to agree on a plan for how they will reorganize and get from a combined board of 13 members down to a combined board of seven members.

Although they have the option to hold a special election to select a new school board, at their joint work session the two school boards agreed to include a plan for gradually reducing the number of school board members.

The consolidated district will operate with 13 school board members until the November 2014 election, when four positions will be eliminated. Two years later, two more positions will be eliminated, bringing the board to seven members at the beginning of 2017.

Timeline moving forward

At the beginning of October, both districts indicated they hoped to approve the plat by the end of the month so it can be submitted to the Pope County Auditor in November. The auditor will then pass on the plat to the Minnesota Commissioner of Education, Brenda Cassellius.

Cassellius has between 20 and 60 days to review the plat, after which time it will be returned to both school boards for final approval, likely sometime in January or February 2013.

If both school boards approve the plat, there will be a 30 day window for residents to petition the decision to consolidate.

If the consolidation goes forward, the newly-created district will begin operating on July 1, 2013.

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Kim Ukura has served as the editor of the Morris Sun Tribune since August 2011. She graduated from the University of Minnesota, Morris in 2008 with degrees in English and journalism. She earned a master's degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 2010. Prior to returning to Morris to work at the Sun Tribune, she worked in trade publishing. 
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