Time is ripe for more area cooperation

Thursday, March 27, 2003

Out of necessity, the schools of Southwest Nebraska are going to have to start working together to solve their money problems.

The cooperation is important because the writing is on the wall: There are simply not enough tax dollars to go around.

Every day, it seems, there is new evidence of this. Take Tuesday for example. By an overwhelming margin, the voters of the Southern Valley School District rejected an attempt to override the property tax levy limit. After seeing their enrollment plunge by more than a 100 students -- from 607 in 1995-96 to 505 this year -- Southern Valley has lost tens of thousands of dollars in state aid, forcing a series of cutbacks in staff and programs.

Now that the levy override has been turned down, further cuts are a certainty, including the possibility that one of the district's three elementary schools -- in either Oxford, Orleans or Beaver City -- will have to be closed.

Meanwhile, further financial problems are brewing in McCook. The situation is so serious that the District 17 Board of Education will gather this evening at a special meeting to discuss cutbacks.

Facing state cuts, the board will consider a series of cost-cutting moves totaling $700,000, including closing West Ward, changing an elementary principal position from full-time to part-time, and eliminating in-town busing. The board will also be looking at a 10 percent reduction in building budgets.

We've known for quite some time that the financial situation was critical, not only in this area, but in the state and nation as well. Now we have real proof, and it's hitting us hard on the hometown level.

When local districts slash spending to stay within levy limits, they look inward, wondering which of their schools' existing programs and staff can be reduced or eliminated.

That's necessary, but why not look outward as well? Neighboring school districts should start talking to each other on a continuing basis, focusing their attention on ways their school districts can save by sharing staff and programs. The Republican Valley and Twin Valley districts have made their decision, electing in a close vote to build a new school and merge into a new district.

As they begin this new era in area education, we urge them to be leaders in a cooperative approach to education, reaching out to the neighboring districts in Cambridge, Southern Valley, Maywood, Medicine Valley and McCook to share both teachers and programs.

Local control is important for elementary and secondary education in Nebraska. But, in order to preserve this precious system of schooling, we must work with each other in rural Nebraska to provide quality educational programs at an affordable cost.

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