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Consolidation questions concern Bancroft residents

Consolidation questions concern Bancroft residents

BANCROFT, Idaho - Will the North Gem and Grace school districts be combining? For many in Bancroft, the answer they want is no.

This all started when a group of people signed a petition to officially start the discussion for consolidation. Those who supported consolidation said this creates a seven-year safety net for state funding.

If the school districts combine, they will receive a steady amount of money from the state, even if their enrollment numbers decline. But on this point, many at the meeting said there are other requirements to consolidation they weren't happy with, like a bond for a new school needing to pass in the first three years of consolidation.

Bancroft currently has a ballot measure for $4.8 million to build a K-12 school in the Bancroft district. Those concerned said if they combine with Grace, what's to stop a new school being built in Grace's boundaries? That would cause Bancroft kids to commute down Old Highway 30 and across US 30, and they said that's not all.

"I feel like each school's going to lose their history if we consolidate," said Hailey Perry, an school district employee and mother of two children in the North Gem district. "If we don't have a school, we don't have a town."

That concern was echoed by many the Bancroft public hearing for consolidation Wednesday.

One big concern is jobs. The school district in Bancroft is the largest employer in the area.

Furthermore, Perry expressed worry for her job. She said consolidating might force her to find another place to work.

According to a consolidation findings report issued to residents in both districts, one of the first reasons for consolidation is to "combine other administrative services."

Jason Hancock, representing the State Department of Education, said the first 10 percent of anyone whose jobs would be cut will be offered a severance package.

That's why Perry said she wants her school board to realize people could lose their jobs if this goes through, which could cause folks to move.

"I would be disappointed if my school board didn't want to keep our school here and keep us as the North Gem Cowboys." Perry said.

So is it the North Gem Cowboys versus the Grace Grizzlies? Not according to the superintendent of both school districts, Jamie Holyoak. He said he wants the residents to vote for what they think is best.

"My job is to take what they feel is best and maximize it, to do what's best for our kids and our staff with what we're provided," he said after the Wednesday hearing.

Many at the hearing said as Grace has a higher population, they would likely vote to get all the benefits, including a new school, something Grace has also been pushing for.

Holyoak said again the decision to consolidate should rest with the people it would affect, which are the parents and students.

"We have very similar demographics," Holyoak said. "The students are very similar, and the communities are very similar."

The consolidation committee said combining with Grace would get Bancroft an additional $8 million to build a school, and the state would pay $25 for every $100 of the bond.

One resident at Wednesday's hearing spoke about the plan, saying it's not required to combine schools, but it doesn't forbid it either. He said this could lead to higher taxes.

Another suggest the state use some of the $63 million sitting unused to breathe some life back into districts in need.

For those in Bancroft, the concern comes largely in where the school might be built.

"And really as a consolidation committee we can't answer that," said Troy McCurdy, Grace School Board chair and member of the consolidation committee. "It's really up to the new board, which, in essence, is a combination of the two existing boards."

And because there were only guesses and opinions to answer that question, many said there are too many questions to support consolidation.

Some residents said if consolidation doesn't work, they can simply go back to the way it was.

One resident said she didn't like that idea, as the Idaho statute on undoing consolidation states not only do the bonds get split within the individual districts, any funds (like the $25 incentive listed previously) would have to be paid back to the state.

She said this meant not only would they be out the time and effort to consolidate, they would lose any money they could have used to simply pass the May 20 bond in the first place.

At 7 p.m. Thursday, Grace residents had a public meeting to discuss their concerns with consolidation. 

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