PALO — With the operation of the Palo Community Schools a thing of the past, the school board is looking at the future of its students as it mulls the decision of whether to annex the district into Carson City-Crystal Area Schools or Ionia Public Schools or a combination of both.
In May 2013, the Palo school board decided to close the school, which took effect last fall, citing low enrollment and reduced state revenue as the cause. The school had been in service for 134 years.
Since its closing, officials have been tasked with determining the future of the district. It has limited its choices of districts it can annex into as Carson City-Crystal or Ionia, or split the Palo district between the two.
“Palo Community Schools just completed the first year of dissolution process. This process must be completed within three years,” said Ionia County Intermediate School District Superintendent Robert Kjolhede, who is also Palo’s superintendent. “All Palo assets, property, facilities and remaining funds will go to the district or districts in the annexation ballot question approved by participating districts.”
At a public forum Monday, representatives from Carson City-Crystal and Ionia schools pitched their districts to the Palo school board and the handful of community members who showed up.
Both schools have picked up former Palo students since the Palo closed and officials from CC-C and Ionia said the transition has been seamless. The last count of the total amount of students at Palo Community Schools was about 60 students.
“When you guys decided you had to close down, we showed that we picked up 23 Palo students out of the students you had here,” said Ben Adkins, vice president of Carson City-Crystal school board. “We felt that we put those students into our student population and there was really a seamless transition for those kids. They were accepted in and it worked. I think a lot of the reason that works in Carson City is because really we are three small communities now and we are all in one district.
“Carson City-Crystal is a school of many communities; not too big, not too small, but equipped to handle the unique needs of each community to create one dynamic school district,” he added.
Ionia Public Schools Associate Superintendent Ben Kirby said his district has 88 students from the Palo community.
“We definitely feel we’ve had some successes and we appreciate them being a part of our district,” Kirby said.
Each school district representative was given approximately 10 minutes to sell their district to those in attendance. Each highlighted test scores, extracurricular activities, programming, achievements and budget statuses.
“We have a 90 percent graduation rate and a less than 5 percent dropout rate,” said Adkins of Carson City-Crystal.
Kirby said the Ionia district has been able to limit the damages of declining revenue and shrinking budgets.
“We haven’t really cut any of our programs over the past few years,” he said. “Many people have been struggling but we’ve been handling most of our budget deficits through attrition and haven’t been cutting programs and haven’t had anyone laid off in recent years.”
The Palo school board made no decision Monday and indeed they will not make the final decision. The Palo school board will decide on which one or both of the districts they will include in ballot language. Voters will then be asked whether they favor the proposed annexation.
Kjolhede said the proposal would likely be on a May ballot.
In order for the annexation to go through, it must be approved by the voters of each district involved, including Palo and either Carson City-Crystal or Ionia or both, depending on the board’s choice.
If approved, all of Palo’s assets and facilities will become part of the chosen district, as well as all of its funds.
Kjolhede said the Palo school district received good news on its bond debt, something that shouldn’t carry over in the annexation into a new district.
“The board has the resources to pay off the remaining school bond debt in November. There is still three years left of that,” he said.
Palo school board members wrapped up Monday’s meeting by saying they hoped to gather as much public input as it could before making a decision. They encouraged Palo community members to contact them or attend the next meeting, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. July 14 at the school.
“We’re not going to make everybody happy, but whatever we do we want to do what’s best for the community,” said Trustee Susan Lehman.