Superintendent Mike Wells proposed a plan to resurrect high school classes under a career academy format, in which students would receive a certificate for special skills, in addition to their high school diploma. The plan included sharing instructors with Essex–where he is also superintendent.
“I have met with the Essex staff, they are willing to do whatever it takes. For Essex, let’s say we have 20 students in our high school, we generate $140,000. We cut them a check for a hundred thousand for teaching — it’s a win for them — they have no new expenses except for some travel,” Wells told the board. “And for Hamburg, financially we can make it, we can be solvent with the high school Over the next four years, the high school will grow.”
Wells says the agreement to have Hamburg students attend Sidney for high school forces them to do what Sidney wants them to do. Sidney Superintendent, Tim Hood, spoke out against the move, saying the state study shows it will not work financially.
“The feasibility study is clear in its conclusion that Hamburg cannot support a high school. Plus, to complicate the issue, the Army Corps of Engineers is saying it’s going to be another grim spring for us in that area with flooding,” Hood says. “After experiencing how things have gone with Hamburg students attending Sidney the past four years — we sincerely hope your decision today will allow our students to continue doing great things together.”
Hood says taking the Hamburg students away from Sidney will end up impacting both schools financially and could lead to the end of both districts. “My final statement is please do not put both school districts in harm’s way when you do not have to,” Hood says. Board member Mary Ellen Miller of Mason City says she supports small districts, but expressed concern about the possible financial ramifications of a Hamburg high school.
“I supported this when they came a year ago — because I really felt that the community understood the risk. But now I am not so sure they do,” Miller says. She says the feasibility report helped her make up her mind.
“What I am hearing form all of this data is financially I just don’t see this being viable. And so, you’re putting at risk a school you already have. You have enough students to support — and you are putting that at huge risk,” Miller says.
Board member Mike May of Spirit Lake is a former legislator. “I understand how we’ve struggled with issues of small schools forever and ever, and all we seem to do is nibble at the edges. We don’t seem to be able to solve the problem. And I would guess that that’s probably going to be a problem we are going to be dealing with for years,” May says.
May said he worried about the plan on a couple of levels. “I am very much concerned about the viability of your plan — I think financially and instructionally,” according to May. “This will be a problem in succeeding years. And I think that if we do this now — as others have suggested — and end up in a situation where we have to dissolve the district, you are going to be very unhappy.”
The Hamburg Community School District operated as an independent district until 2011. Hamburg entered into a whole grade sharing agreement in 2011 with Farragut. Hamburg high school students attending Farragut — and middle school students from Farragut went to Hamburg. Hamburg began sending 9-12 students to Sidney after the dissolution of the Farragut district.