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Vote on Aplington-Parkersburg school merger will likely be in August

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PARKERSBURG

The Aplington and Parkersburg school districts have been courting one another for going on 11 years.

With the state offering incentives, local officials think it's time to decide if they should be united.

The Area Education Agency 7 board voted Monday to accept petitions submitted by residents seeking a vote on merging the two districts. The decision followed a public hearing at Aplington-Parkersburg High School.

The board's action means a vote will be held sometime in August allowing residents to decide whether to create a new school district. The referendum would have to pass in both towns to become effective on July 1, 2004.

"It makes sense for students, first and foremost," said Kevin Schipper, president of the Aplington School Board.

Both districts have maintained separate elementary schools. Aplington has been home to the middle school, and Parkersburg has been home to the high school. With a merger, that would stay the same.

Eventually, Schipper said, the single district would become more efficient than having two.

The state has offered incentives of $100,000 a year for six years if the districts follow through on the merger. The districts received a total of $100,000 this year, and if the merger goes through the combined district would receive an additional $500,000.

"As our public school financing becomes tighter, it will help in meeting our needs," said Pat Morgan, superintendent of both districts.

Property owners would also see some tax relief.

In the first of three years of property tax relief, the state would cover $1 per $1,000 of assessed taxable valuation on the districts' tax askings. In the next year, the amount would drop to 50 cents, and in the third year to 33 cents.

The Aplington and Parkersburg districts have seen a decline in students, which prompted a sharing agreement more than 10 years ago. When the communities entered the agreement, the districts had a total of 947 students. In 2001 that total was 886. The Iowa Department of Education predicts the district will decline to 762 by 2006.

"It's not something we would like to see, but we are not totally alarmed by it," said Tom Manifold, vice president of the Parkersburg School District. Many rural schools have seen a loss, he said.

Aplington residents in the past have expressed reservations about the plan, fearing the loss of students could hurt their community. Eventually, they worry Aplington could lose its school.

None of those fears, though, were relayed to AEA officials at Monday's public hearing: Four people attended the hearing, but they did not speak.

Two property owners who had asked that their property be added to the AGWSR School District also did not attend. The AEA board denied those requests.

The exact date of the referendum will likely be set in the next couple of weeks.

Except for the gradual transition to one school district, nothing will change in the immediate future for students and parents.

"We don't know what is going to happen down the road," Manifold said.

Schipper echoed the sentiment, but said requesting a vote on the merger is an opportunity the boards couldn't pass up.

"It's a great direction for us to go."

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