As Governor Tom Vilsack walks from one small Iowa town to another this week, he’s hearing concerns about the state forcing consolidation of small schools. The superintendent of Lynnville/Sully schools waited for Governor Vilsack yesterday in Sully where Vilsack stopped for lunch and a chat with area residents. Superintendent Tony Spencer’s concerns date back to January when the State Board of Education endorsed a policy that would provide merger incentives to the state’s 20 smallest schools, and schools that didn’t act within two years would be forced into mergers. Governor Vilsack proposed a slightly less ambitious plan, but still talked about encouraging consolidation in schools with 200 or fewer students. Lynnville Sully’s superintendent says student population shouldn’t be the determining factor in school consolidation. He says the performance of the school should be the paramount issue. Spencer says all the kids know each other and the staff. He says the climate in the school buildings is excellent and they don’t have fights and suspensions, because of the size of the school district. The superintendent rejects the idea the kids educated in his district get a sub-par education when compared to kids from larger schools. He says the kids score extremely high on the standardized tests, he says the average ACT score is 22.3, the state average is 20.3. He says they’re meeting the needs of the kids. Vilsack replied to the concerns.He says it’s unfortunate that small schools interpreted his proposals as a move by the state to force small schools to merge — that was not the intent. Vilsack says most small schools have inexperienced, overworked teachers, few advanced courses for students and low student test scores. Vilsack says his proposals to the legislature focused on ways to help the students get those A-P, or advanced placement-type classes to proposing creation of “regional” high school academies and internet-based courses. Vilsack says small schools will start getting less state aid soon because the state will stop guaranteeing schools will get the same level of state funding even if the number of students in the district drops. Vilsack says it makes more sense to help small schools now before the budgets get really rough.
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