School merger vote Tuesday
BY SUSAN HYLTON World Staff Writer
Monday, February 11, 2013
2/11/13 at 7:07 AM
The identities of two rural communities should remain intact if voters agree to consolidate the Dustin and Graham school districts, leaders of those districts say.
Under the plan, Dustin would host prekindergarten through fourth-grade students, and Graham would have the fifth- through 12th-graders.
"That's what we want to do is keep both campuses open," said Dustin Superintendent Joe Cummings.
Voters in the districts will decide Tuesday.
Consolidating schools would also increase funding, and teachers would no longer have two grades to a classroom.
"Both schools are in that situation with combined classrooms," said Graham Superintendent Dusty Chancey. "That's one of the things we're proposing the consolidation will solve. We'll go to one teacher to one grade."
Dustin's school is prekindergarten through eighth grade in a town of 452 in Hughes County.
Graham's is prekindergarten through 12th grade. Located near Weleetka, it is a town of 998 in Okfuskee County.
The community of Weleetka was thrust into the spotlight on June 8, 2008, when two girls - Skyla Whitaker, 11, and Taylor Paschal-Placker, 13 - were gunned down on a rural road. Kevin Sweat faces trial for their deaths.
Both girls attended Graham school. Chancey, who also drives the school bus, said Taylor was on his bus route.
Both superintendents say that the consolidation would bring students more opportunities, and hopefully, a brighter future.
Both schools would like to bring back Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America and the Future Farmers of America organizations, and maybe add a sport or two.
Dustin has only 52 students and Cummings said the state could eventually require a consolidation.
"We're just trying to get ahead before we're maybe forced to do that. With 52 students, you don't produce enough money to pay salaries with," he said.
Chancey said that Graham is on better financial footing. It has 110 students, but it also has 100 virtual students and 2,400 students from across the state in Epic, a virtual charter school that Graham sponsors.
"I was very skeptical of the online (schooling), but it's very appropriate for some students," Chancey said. "Their test scores show they're getting a very good education. There's six testing sites around the state, and Mom and Dad can't take that for them."
If the two schools consolidate, the cumulative enrollment would be 2,662 students.
Graham and Dustin used to be basketball rivals. But Dustin's enrollment has tapered off so much in recent years that its high school has closed.
"It's been three years since we've really competed against each other," Cummings said.
Most Dustin students have been going to Graham when they're ready for high school because it's the closest.
Graham is four miles north of Dustin. The next-nearest school is 12-15 miles away, Cummings said.
Cummings and Chancey said that both of their school boards unanimously supported the consolidation.
But it's hard to read what the community thinks, Cummings said.
"It's hard to say. Some say yea, some say nay," he said.
But Cummings said the consolidation is for the students.
"It's the best thing for the kids," he said.
There was some opposition when it was thought that consolidating would raise taxes, but Chancey said the millage rate will not change. Cummings said the state would give the new district $600,000 for expenses associated with the consolidation.
"They didn't understand the consolidation funding would take care of all those expenses," Chancey said.
If voters approve the consolidation, Cummings said the current eight members of the two school boards will select a new seven-member board for the consolidated district.
The new school board would select a superintendent for the new school, which means Cummings and/or Chancey could be out of a job, at least as the top administrator.
The consolidation would take effect on July 1.
Elsewhere in the state, four other schools are considering changes.
Lane Public Schools in Atoka County proposes to annex Farris Public Schools.
Varnum Public Schools in Seminole County proposes a partial annexation of Strother Public Schools.
Original Print Headline: Working together
Susan Hylton 918-581-8381
Sixth-grader Megan Burney gets some help from teacher Angela Deturk in the fifth- and sixth-grade class at Dustin Public Schools. The two grades use a single classroom. In this class, sixth-graders face one way and the fifth-graders face another. Voters will decide Tuesday on whether to consolidate the Dustin and Graham school districts. STEPHEN PINGRY / Tulsa World
First-grader Iliana Lynch answers a question in a first- and second-grade combined classroom at Dustin Public Schools. Voters will decide Tuesday on consolidation of Dustin and Graham school districts. STEPHEN PINGRY / Tulsa World
Dustin fifth- and sixth-graders run to physical education class after math class ends. Voters will decide Tuesday on the consolidation of Dustin and Graham school districts. STEPHEN PINGRY / Tulsa World
Dustin Superintendent Joe Cummings reads to kindergartners at Dustin Public Schools as teacher Heather Buesser works with pre-K kids in the back of the room. STEPHEN PINGRY / Tulsa World