By Natalie Conrad
Herald Staff Writer
Students from Preston, Miles and Sabula will set foot in a brand new district next fall as the result of a referendum that narrowly passed Tuesday.
East Central and Preston school districts will combine to form Easton Valley school district at the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year, according to the unofficial results.
In the Preston School District, voters approved the merger 776 to 121, an 86.5 percent majority.
In the East Central School District, which incudes Miles and Sabula, there were 617 yes votes and 597 no votes for a 50.8 percent vote of approval.
A simple majority was needed to determine if the two districts should merge. A total of 2,112 voters cast ballots out of 3,154 registered voters for an overall 66.96 percent voter turnout.
A petition seeking reorganization was first submitted to the Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency on May 3, 2010. Following a hearing, the agency board approved the petition for a vote on the issue on June 16, 2010.
The East Central School Board filed a lawsuit opposing the vote, contending that the AEA did not have the authority to call for a vote. The district stated that the agency failed to conduct detailed studies and surveys of the school district or consult with East Central officials and citizens in regard to the proposed plan. Recently, the Iowa Supreme Court affirmed the Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency did not exceed its authority in authorizing the public vote.
Currently, East Central has a three-year, whole-grade sharing agreement with the Northeast School District. East Central seventh- through 12th-grade students take classes at Northeast’s Goose Lake campus. Preston has an agreement with Maquoketa School District to send high school students there for some classes. Both districts have a complete elementary program.
Specifics as to how the two districts will merge have not been discussed in depth. The next step will be a school board election in January for the new district.
“I would recommend that our board cooperate to form the new board,” Preston Superintendent Robert Lagerblade said. “We’re not sure exactly how the process works, but it will be a learning experience.”
While the circumstances are unknown, Lagerblade says he is ready to move forward and see what is in store.
“With both districts learning and growing things should run smoothly,” Lagerblade said. “Hopefully this creates additional opportunities and benefits for our students.”
East Central is also ready for what lies ahead, according to Superintendent Neil Gray.
“It is what it is and we’re going to take the results and run with it,” Gray said. “We’re ready to move forward and see what the changes will be.”
Members of Opt4EC, a group that opposes the merger, said they will not comment until the results become official.