(Corning/Villisca) -- A possible reorganization between the Corning and Villisca School Districts is being delayed slightly due to COVID-19.
The two districts have operated under a wholegrade sharing agreement for the last six school years, using the moniker Southwest Valley. Officials in both district have been laying the groundwork to combine the districts into one with a referendum as soon as next spring. Superintendent Chris Fenster tells KMA News both districts need to assess the financial toll of the pandemic before reorganization moves forward.
"We need to see what the next six months look like financially," said Fenster. "We've got to see how COVID-19 impacts us. Is it going to hurt us with the students? Are we going to lose any students? I don't think we're going to lose students, but we may. I guess, I'm really positive that we're not going to lose any kids. But, any extra expenses, like I've told the board we could spend around $100,000 just trying to keep our building safe, so that's a part of the budget that we didn't budget for, obviously."
Both school boards held a joint meeting Thursday night to discuss the reorganization effort. Fenster says right now he anticipates a referendum could take place in November 2021.
"We were going to have a vote next March, but we're kind of holding on that right just to see where we're at with the COVID-19 and where this takes us," said Fenster. "If we feel like we can still move forward, we're going to move forward with reorganization and we'll just have vote next November instead of March. This would postpone it a little bit, but we're still moving on with it, we're just kind of taking a holding pattern right now just to see if COVID-19 is going to affect us."
While a public vote on the measure is delayed, Fenster says work continues on aligning things between the two districts to make a combination easier.
"All of our email addresses for the districts will now have one southwestvalley.org," said Fenster. "Everybody will have an email that way, instead of having a Villisca email and a Corning email, everything will be Southwest Valley. That's one step we took. We've done a salary schedule, our professional development is the same and how we evaluate teachers is the same. We've done a lot of those things."
Fenster says the two districts essentially already operate as one, they just maintain separate accounts and school boards.
"If you've been around in our school, you can't tell that we're not one district already," said Fenster. "It's just going to be a matter of getting all of our things we need to line up behind the scenes. Then it will be a smooth transition."
In May 2019, both school boards approved a resolution to study reorganization beginning in the 2022-23 school year. Both districts have reorganization committees that will continue to meet ahead of the public vote.