CHERRY — The voters of Cherry and the school board have spoken, and the word is Dimmick.
“The people have spoken,” said Cherry Superintendent Jim Boyle. “The process has begun.”
At Monday’s meeting, the Cherry Grade School Board unanimously voted to pursue some kind of consolidation agreement with the Dimmick School District.
A combination of evaporating state aid, shrinking property values and declining enrollment had led the Cherry board to pursue closing the school at the end of the 2013-14 school year.
The board chose to invite Ladd Superintendent Michelle Zeko to make a presentation at January’s board meeting and Dimmick Superintendent Ryan Linnig to speak in February.
Then the voters were asked to speak.
Boyle said the board created a survey, which was sent to 426 Cherry households. He said 153 surveys were returned, and the preference was overwhelmingly for Dimmick.
Participants were asked to circle their preference of either Ladd or Dimmick and then give two reasons for their preference. Eight surveys were thrown out for not listing the reasons for the preference.
Of the remaining surveys, 131, or more than 90 percent, chose Dimmick.
Boyle said he was pleased with the reasons listed, particularly since respondents chose the educational quality as the primary concern.
“They really see a value to the education over there,” he said.
Boyle said board members Jim Lower and Deb Brokaw volunteered to serve on a subcommittee with Dimmick Board members to begin work on the consolidation process. No determination has yet been made whether the process would be through deactivation, consolidation or annexation.
Boyle said he was happy with the process so far.
“I’m pleased about the input that was provided from the village of Cherry,” he said. “The input was valuable to the board as it proceeds to seek out a good educational environment for the children of Cherry. The well-being of the children is optimal.”
On Wednesday, Linnig said he was pleased with the decision of the Cherry residents and school board.
“It was good news to hear,” he said.
Linnig said from what he has heard, everyone is focused on what is best for the academic needs of the Cherry students, and he thinks Dimmick would be a good fit.
“We really feel we’ve got an outstanding program,” he said. “More kids should benefit from what we’re able to offer.”
The benefit would not be one-sided.
Linnig said his district — which has a very low tax rate due to all the business on the north end of Peru — has a very low enrollment of 106 students.
And those numbers were going down.
“We saw our numbers declining, which kind of spurred the discussions with Cherry,” he said.
Cherry’s estimated 62 students in the 2014-15 school year would boost Dimmick’s enrollment by almost 60 percent, and all at the need for no additional teachers.
Incentives from the state would bring in more money, which would put Dimmick in an even more positive financial situation.
Linnig said Dimmick and Cherry board members would form a small joint committee to address issues such as staffing and transportation.
Later this spring, Linnig would like to schedule a community meeting in Dimmick to explain what’s happening to residents there. He said he has had some questions from Dimmick community members, but so far, everyone has been positive about the proposed consolidation.
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