Northern Iowa voters OK school merger

ARMSTRONG – Two northern Iowa school districts will merge into one.

Voters at Armstrong-Ringsted and Sentral schools on Tuesday approved reorganizing into one district under the North Union banner, with 86 percent favoring the measure.

Armstrong-Ringsted voters passed the reorganization with 291 “yes” votes and 42 “no” votes, while Sentral passed it 78-18.

“For a special election, it was a good turnout,” said Sentral Superintendent Art Pixler.

“I’m very excited for the future,” Armstrong-Ringsted Superintendent Matt Berninghaus said shortly after the vote was counted. “The community did the right thing. This has been in the works for a long time. It started two years ago under [former Superintendent] Randy Collins, and the board; they had this vision they put together, so it’s a nice cultivation at the end, but it’s also a new beginning.”

Whole-grade sharing and reorganizations of rural districts have been encouraged by the state of Iowa once they drop below an enrollment of 300 students. Armstrong-Ringsted has been at the threshold of 300 students for the past two years, while Sentral has less than 200 students.

Sentral began a whole-grade sharing agreement with North Kossuth in 2008, in which Sentral’s 9-12 grades attended high school in Swea City, while North Kossuth sent its 6-8 grades to the Sentral school building in Fenton. That agreement was terminated when Armstrong-Ringsted joined the whole-grade sharing agreement, and the three districts became known as North Union.

“I foresee one of the first things, possibly depending on how quick the boards want to act, is to set up an interim board,” Pixler said. “They would elect officers, and select an interim superintendent and board secretary. That board would take care of the policy for the new district, new associations, all those things that will need to be in place by July 1, 2014.”

With the reorganization approved, the new North Union district will likely try to enter another whole-grade sharing agreement with North Kossuth for 2014-15, when Armstrong-Ringsted and Sentral become the new North Union School District.

“I’ve seen that there is every intention of doing that,” Pixler said.

Armstrong-Ringsted’s school board will hold its monthly meeting tonight, with the reorganization on the agenda for discussion.