Wednesday, January 28, 2004


Merging the public schools of the tiny towns west of Omaha, Valley and Waterloo, was a good idea 30 or 40 years ago. The kids who went to school there knew it. So did many of their parents and taxpayers. It seemed to have been the paid staff who dragged their feet. And it just never got done.

Now, according to an article this week in the Douglas County Post-Gazette, consolidation looks to be even more of a necessity through reduced state aid, budget woes and declining enrollment. The districts are sharing a superintendent, seen as an important step. But the two school boards in the neighboring towns are having trouble launching the merger.

In fact, the Waterloo Board of Education unexpectedly voted Jan. 15 to try a special election to ask taxpayers to override the state’s spending lid. Waterloo would be asking taxpayers to give them an extra 20 cents per $100 in assessed valuation over each of the next five years, to try to make it as a solo act. This, in a tight and tough farm economy, and Waterloo is already spending $9,400 per pupil per year.

Voters in Valley rejected a similar override bid last year, and that’s why the merger overtures were made to Waterloo to try to get some economies of scale and more reasonable class sizes, although it will mean loss of jobs for some.

It gets extra dicey since March 9 is the override vote, but April 15 is the contract cutoff date to let teachers know whether they still have their jobs. If the override fails, Waterloo’s school board will have to decide fast what to do. Meanwhile, temporarily rejected suitor Valley has a budget shortfall of $135,000 to $180,000 looming before property tax receipts arrive in April.

If there’s ever been a no-brainer in Nebraska school consolidations, it’d be Valley and Waterloo. The fact that they’re having trouble shows what an agonizing process it really is. Here’s hoping a smooth and successful solution is found soon.

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