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Leepertown dissolution approved

ATKINSON — In the end, breaking up turned out to be not so hard to do.

After deliberating for just over 15 minutes, the Regional Board of School Trustees unanimously approved the petition by the Leepertown School District to dissolve, with most of the district being annexed into the Ladd School District, and a very small portion moving into the Princeton Elementary School District.

“It’s just such a relief to know where we’re going,” said Leepertown Superintendent Amber Harper. “Now we can keep moving forward.”

In August 2010, financial woes resulted in the Leepertown School Board authorizing Harper to take the first steps down the road toward eventually closing the school. After conducting a feasibility study on reorganization and visiting with neighboring districts, Leepertown finally came to an agreement with Ladd. On Jan. 24, the board approved the petition to dissolve, putting the future of the district’s 57 students into the hands of the seven-member board of trustees.

At Wednesday’s meeting at the office in Atkinson, Regional Superintendent of Schools Angie Zarvell said the trustees would hear evidence as to the school’s needs, the needs of the students, and high school attendance patterns.

Leepertown’s attorney, Jim Peters, gave an opening statement, and discussed the district’s “dire financial situation.”

“The evidence will make clear it’s not practicable to continue,” he said.

No opponent of the petition was present to offer an opening statement, so Peters called his two witnesses to testify.

Leepertown School Board President Keith Burkman testified to the process followed by the district. He said they did not consider the Spring Valley Elementary School District because Spring Valley wasn’t “interested” due to a lack of space. On the other hand, Ladd had a newer building with plenty of room and would offer smaller class sizes than in a bigger district.

“It’s where we wish to go,” he said.

Also testifying was Harper, who said the district’s finances left them no options.

“We are living on bonds, and the bonds are running out,” she said. “Leepertown no longer can afford to exist. We no longer have the money to go another year.”

Harper said the annexation would cause no hardship for Ladd because Ladd’s teachers and staff have more seniority than anyone at Leepertown, so their jobs are secure. In addition, the annexation would benefit Ladd by adding a pre-kindergarten program.

“I do not see any detriment, only positives,” she said.

In addition, Ladd will receive about $651,000 in financial incentives during the next four years.

During the public testimony portion of the hearing, Leepertown resident Barb Wright spoke. Her family is one of the few that also lives in the Princeton High School District, and she said they have paid tuition for their daughter since she was in kindergarten to attend Princeton Elementary. She requested the trustees agree with Leepertown’s request for her area to be annexed into the Princeton Elementary District. There was a letter expressing similar feelings submitted by Dustin and Angela Mehlbrech.

The trustees held a brief discussion after the testimony was completed.

Trustee Jim Whitmore said he supported the petition because there was no opposition, and that it accommodated the students in the Princeton High School District.

Trustee Bill Ellis said students would not be able to get a good education at Leepertown because of the financial condition, and they would receive a better education at Ladd.

Trustee Bill Kested also noted there was no opposition to the petition, and that the change would not have a negative impact on either Ladd or Princeton Elementary.

Approval of the petition was unanimous, with trustees Jim Lodico, Larry Wilcoxen and Mike Holt also in favor. Trustee Gerald Giovanine was absent from the meeting.

After the meeting, Harper said she and Ladd Superintendent Michelle Zeko can continue their efforts regarding the transition.

“The Ladd School District is anxious to begin working through the transition process, welcoming our neighbors from the Leepertown School District into our school district,” Zeko said.

The changes will take effect July 1.

Comment on this story at www.bcrnews.com.

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