Friday, January 27, 2017

Laurens-Marathon High School to Close

This spring the Laurens-Marathon school district will graduate its last class.  Future students will be sent to Pocahontas once they enter the 9th grade.  Jr-Hi sports will also be supervised by the neighboring district but classes will remain in Laurens.

The decision was made in a 3-2 vote of the school board following four years of turmoil.  It began in 2013 with the resignation of a coach who could not field a team.  It progressed through  multiple opinion surveys, a serious episode of district overspending in violation of state law, the firing of the superintendent, an athletic sharing agreement, a partial day academic sharing agreement, another state notice of non-compliance, contentious negotiations, and a near-reversal of direction to join Sioux Rapids rather than Pocahontas.

The district was also plagued by families who open enrolled their kids elsewhere, some poor "report cards"  handed to the high school and middle school by the Iowa Department of Education, a  defeated school board president in 2013, a board resignation in 2016, and the long- time problems of declining population and Iowa's underfunding of public schools.

The district will remain independent.  Its contract with Pocahontas Area Community School District is for five years.  The board made clear to PAC that they did not expect to proceed toward consolidation.  The contract renews automatically in two year increments unless one district wants to interrupt that process.

L-M now becomes only the second public school in Iowa to have an enrollment that stops at eighth grade.  Other independent schools such as Albert City-Truesdale stop at sixth grade.  AC-T has been without its upper grades for 13 years.

The last act for L-M  came on January 23, 2017.  A special meeting was held to hear public opinion in the hour before the vote was scheduled.  The school library was filled by as many adults as there are kids in the high school.  There was only minor resistance to the proposed agreement.  The principle attitude was one of resignation.

After 75 minutes of discussion the board voted.  Pete Runneberg moved to approve the deal.  It was seconded by Chuck Harrold and supported by Dorothy Lamberti, a new face on the board.  President  Matt Tate and long-time member Deb Kenobbie voted against the contract as they had done in a preliminary meeting with the PAC board on January 9.