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Shakeup in education narrowly missed
by Chris Alllen Baker, The Scott County Times
Apr 21, 2014 | 103 views | 0 0 comments | 72 72 recommendations | email to a friend | print
This has been some kind of year for school districts that I have an interest in, it appears.

We all know the story of what happened with the Scott County School District being taken over by the state in February. We are fortunate that the situation was not worse, a fact prevented by the district's academic success as a B-level performing district. That is a credit to the students and teachers and other staff personnel.

Now that state officials are busy with correcting the issues within Scott County schools, my attention diverted to a situation I had been following through the legislative session that recently ended.

A few years ago here in Forest, a lot of debate was created when a former school board member suggested that the Forest and Scott County school districts should merge. That issue died for lack of either district's school board's interest in merging.

Well, the same kind of thing nearly happened in my home county and hometown, only this time it was the legislature making the effort.

First, a bill was introduced that would have consolidated Winona Municipal School District with Montgomery County and even threw Carroll County into the mix. That obviously made no sense, and fortunately, Carroll was taken out of the equation.

Still, legislation survived further into the session that would have consolidated Winona and Montgomery County.

There was staunch local opposition to the consolidation as you might expect.

I can remember way back when I was a student at Winona Elementary School that one day an announcement was made that the city school district had become "Winona Municipal Separate School District."

Montgomery County had schools in Duck Hill and Kilmichael, its only other two incorporated municipalities.

Decades later, the county elementary school at Duck Hill closed, leaving everything at Kilmichael. I am told that over the years, Montgomery County Schools have seen a drastic reduction in enrollment and today only have maybe 300 or more students. There have also been issues with its academic production in low test scores.

Meanwhile, Winona's schools have rocked along as they always have, maintaining a steadiness in academic success from what I understand. I left Winona for Oxford after graduation 25 years ago, returned for one year and left again. I have visited my family regularly but have not lived there since 1996.

Maybe a consolidation for Winona and Montgomery County schools is the right thing, maybe not. There seems to be credible evidence supporting it as it very nearly happened through legislative action.

The key thing for my hometown community is that they had better continue looking hard at the futures of both school districts because it is very likely this will come up again next legislative session.

My colleague, Amanda Ferguson, publisher of The Winona Times, made some very good observations on the subject recently when I spoke with her. It would bode well for Winona and Montgomery County to come up with their own plan to merge the districts, based on their first hand knowledge of the districts and their needs.

This would be preferable to being told how it will happen by legislators, many who have no clue about what Winona and Montgomery County are all about.

Yes, some jobs would be lost. There would be many adjustments. But doing it on their own terms would be better than on orders from Jackson.

As my WHS class of 1989 observes 25 years this year since our graduation, my prayers are that things work out well for everyone back home.

In the meantime, I'll watch from a distance and hope for the best while covering Forest and Scott County.

Chris Allen Baker is a native of Winona and serves as managing editor of The Scott County Times in Forest. He can be reached by e-mail at cbaker@sctonline.net.

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