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The North Bend Eagle


Freehodler petitions to NBC force Prague's hand

by Nathan Arneal
Published 4/14/10

On March 30, the Prague Board of Education voted to merge with the East Butler school district for the 2011-12 school year.

Twelve miles to the north that same night, the North Bend Central school board was holding a special meeting to consider 41 freeholder petitions that would dramatically affect the future of the Prague district.

It wasn’t the beginning of the end for Prague High School—that came long ago—but it probably hastened the end.

The freeholder petition process allows landowners to transfer their property from one school district to another if certain conditions are met. On March 30, the NBC board approved the petitions. A list of the land included in the petitions was printed in last week’s Eagle.

The next step of the process requires the approval of a board made up of Saunders and Dodge County officials. If approved by that body, the freeholder land would add about 6,700 acres and 12.4 million dollars of valuation to the North Bend Central school district. The county officials will consider the petitions April 19 at the Saunders County courthouse in Wahoo.

Another 14 freeholder petitions were approved at Monday’s NBC school board meeting, bringing the total number to 55 petitions, 8,800 acres and $16.7 million.
Prague Superintendent Ray Collins said the large number of petitions filed caught the Prague district by surprise. Prague had planned on staying open for the 2010-11 school year before joining East Butler.

“(The freeholder petitions) make it virtually impossible for us to run a K-12 school system next year, which was the original goal,” Collins told the Eagle Friday. “When you lose roughly 15 percent of your valuation, I think that really hampers the ability to do anything in a K-12 setting.”

In a special meeting on Sunday, the Prague Board of Education voted to dissolve its high school and issued a reduction of force notice to its teachers. For now, the board hopes to maintain its elementary school. A final decision must be made by Thursday, when its elementary teachers much be notified of their contract status for next school year. The Prague school board meets again Wednesday night.
In the deal reached March 30, East Butler agreed to keep a K-6 attendance center open in Prague. Collins said Prague’s original land valuation of about $90 million would have paid for the local school, but with $12 million of that possibly shifting to North Bend, a Prague attendance center may not be possible. It may also force East Butler to rethink whether a merger with Prague is in its best interest. East Butler had a school board meeting Monday night. Whatever comes out of that meeting will likely influence the actions of the Prague board Wednesday.

“I think East Butler may have to approach the whole process a bit differently,” Collins said.

Shifting land from Prague’s school district to North Bend’s could save the landowners thousands of dollars per year in taxes.

With recent votes to override the tax levy limit of $1.05 per $100 of property valuation, Prague’s levy for the current school year is $1.26.

On the other hand, North Bend’s tax levy is one of the lowest in the state at $0.87 per $100 of valuation.

North Bend Central superintendent Jim Havelka said the addition of the Prague land could lower that figure even more, allowing NBC to bring in the same amount of money with a lower levy.

If the petitions are approved April 19, that doesn’t necessarily mean NBC would gain additional students.

“In a number of the cases we approved, the kids are already going here,” Havelka said. “In many cases it’s people who own land in North Bend or maybe live in North Bend but had a piece or two of land in Prague’s district.”

In order for people to leave a district via a freeholder petition, the district must meet three conditions: 1) it must have a 9-12 enrollment of less than 60 students for two straight years, 2) it has voted to exceed the maximum tax levy and 3) the property being moved must be within 15 miles of another high school.

The land being moved must also lie adjacent to the district that it is transferring to. One of the parcels of land petitioning to join NBC actually touches the town of Prague. This land is eligible because a contiguous string of land from Prague all the way to the current NBC district is included in the petition.

With no high school for next school year, Prague’s board is essentially looking at two options Wednesday.

“I believe the board and the school district have the obligation to educate the kids here,” Collins said. “To me that means they would have to either dissolve and attach property to any district that will take it, or try to contract kids to an area school or area schools.”

Contracting means students would attend classes in another district while the Prague district pays a fee to the hosting school.

All that leaves the Prague school board with some momentous decisions to make at Wednesday’s meeting.

“Staffing is on the agenda for our next board meeting,” Collins said. “It’s a pretty ominous notice that basically says there is the possibility that there won’t be a district here next year.”

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