Unless something changes, North Winneshiek School won't survive beyond 2017.

Parents of North Winneshiek students received a letter from the school district two weeks ago, stating "Declining enrollment and stagnant state/federal revenues are making it challenging to maintain the current preschool-eighth grade school configuration."

This information was released following a recent feasibility study by the Iowa Department of Education regarding the longevity of North Winneshiek, the smallest prekindergarten through eighth grade school in the state, with the 12th smallest enrollment in the state at just 152.

"The issue at hand is we will not be able to maintain our current pre-K through eighth grade beyond the year 2017," said North Winn Superintendent Tim Dugger at a special joint meeting between the North Winneshiek and Decorah School District boards of education Monday evening.

"Our options include maintaining the status quo, increasing our number of whole-grade sharing grades, reorganizing (consolidating) or dissolving," said Dugger.

"In nine years, we've dropped 70 kids. For a small school, that's a lot," said Dugger.

North Winneshiek, a rural school located north of Decorah, graduated its first 12th grade class in 1966.

In 2002, the district closed its high school and entered into whole-grade sharing agreements with both Decorah and Mabel-Canton.

Although the agreement with Mabel-Canton is reciprocal, North Winn has no high school, so Mabel-Canton students do not attend North Winn.

The agreement North Winn has with Decorah is a one-way, whole-grade sharing agreement for grades nine through 12. North Winneshiek and Decorah are currently engaged in their third, five-year contract for whole-grade sharing. This agreement expires in 2017.

The options

At Monday's meeting, Dugger gave a brief presentation to both boards, outlining the recommendations from the Department of Education.

North Winn Board President Brenda Kreitzer said, "One option we really would not want to see is to dissolve ... There are just not the kids in the district any more and we need to do something."

Goals

Dugger said in discussing the district's future, the board has come up with a number of goals.

"We would like to do what's best for students, keep the taxpayers in mind, provide for the educational needs of our students in a safe and efficient manner and see continued employment of our current staff and future utilization of North Winn's facilities," said Dugger.

The positives

Dugger also presented a number of positive items his district has going for it.

"At this time we are financially stable, but we need to be proactive," said Dugger, adding the district is also academically sound and this year's annual progress report shows the district recently met all of the federal requirements associated with the No Child Left Behind Legislation of 2001.

"We have updated bleachers, Smartboards, new classroom lights and updated bus fleets. Half of the building is air conditioned," he said.

The North Winneshiek buildings and grounds encompass 24 acres, valued at $9 million. The district spans 136 square miles of land, which represent a taxable valuation of $118 million.

Dugger said the district will be totally debt-free by the year 2015.

He added, over the years, the district has become a rural community center, hosting everything from fundraisers by 4-H and church groups to AAU team sports.

"The (Decorah Youth) fifth and sixth grade football teams have held games at North Winneshiek for the past nine years and we give them storage space in the offseason for free. It's a good combination of them being able to use our building and good publicity for our school," said Dugger.

North Winn Board Member Myron Rediske added the Decorah FFA also uses a piece of North Winneshiek's land for its 3.5-acre crop test plot.

Response

Following Dugger's presentation, Decorah Superintendent Mike Haluska commended the North Winn Board for its foresight.

"I really admire your courage. I know what you're doing is not easy," said Haluska.

Decorah Board Vice President Melanie Tietz added, "It's really financial reasons. You have good staff in place and good outcomes. It comes down to dwindling enrollment."

Decorah Board Member John Hjelle next asked Dugger and Haluska if either of them have ever been involved with a school consolidation before.

Haluska said he had been involved in conversations about it and Dugger replied he had not.

"Are there resources that can be looked at to kind of guide a person through this?" asked Hjelle.

Haluska said there are.

What's next?

Kreitzer invited the Decorah Board to come visit North Winneshiek.

"We're pretty proud of it out there and we just keep improving it all the time," she said.

Each board next approved motions to enter into meetings with the other board for the purpose of future planning between the two districts.

Decorah committee representatives will include Haluska, Decorah Board President Ron Fadness and Tietz, and North Winn representatives will include Dugger, Kreitzer and Board Vice President Ben Lange.

"This is an important decision for both committees," said Hjelle.

"And we'd like to begin talks sooner rather than later," added Dugger.

"We certainly want to work for the best interest of students at both districts," said Fadness.