It’s a question that leads to dozens more questions — and for Pender Public Schools whether or not to cooperate in every junior high and high school sports with neighboring Emerson-Hubbard Community Schools just got very real.
It won’t, however, go quickly.
The E-H board voted on Feb. 27 to make an overture to PPS to make a co-op happen for the 2018-19 school year, and the topic ate up nearly two hours of discussion at a regular PPS board meeting in Pender’s Heese Event Center Monday night.
Pender superintendent Dr. Jason Dolliver presented information and detailed seven years of prior cooperation between the two districts, painting a picture of a relationship that has grown and contracted at different times in the areas of activities and curriculum to fit the needs of both districts from year to year.
The consensus of the Pender school board and about 30 district patrons, many of whom shared thoughts and asked questions during a public commentary period, is that there’s a lot more work to do before providing E-H with an answer.
A town hall session open to the public will be held at 7 p.m. at Heese Event Center on Monday, March 27 to further the discussion.
The administrative team and the school board will work in the meantime to gather answers to many of the questions raised Monday night.
Those include the enrollment numbers and participation rates in various sports for both districts, the potential impact on classifications (such as moving from D1 to C2 or even C1), costs to the district for things like uniforms and transportation, and student survey data that has already been collected.
If Pender would ultimately decide to move forward with an agreement, there’s also the question of what level of compromise it would be willing to make and whether that would be acceptable to E-H.
Dolliver and several board members noted that the pace of the process was going to make cementing a co-op for next school year difficult, if not impossible.
A deadline to notify the Nebraska Department of Education about an intention to option enroll into another district was today (Thursday, March 15). Another perhaps more important deadline related to sports is also looming on May 1, which is the deadline to notify the Nebraska School Activities Association of an option enrollment. Failure to do so requires transferring students to sit out the first 90 days of varsity competition in any sport. That eliminates the entire fall sports season, and a good chunk of the winter sports season for students caught in that situation should they disagree with a decision by the Pender board.
“That’s not very fair to the students,” PPS board member Dr. Jean Karlen said. “There isn’t enough time to make a good decision. We make data driven decisions here. That’s been this board’s mantra.”
Dolliver said that the pace would have to be right for Pender to evaluate its options, and that includes gathering feedback from more people and with more facts available to them. He also said the two most important things in the process are to keep a community like Pender that has a lot going for it from being pulled apart debating the topic, and also that the E-H community knows that the matter is being taken seriously and thoughtfully.
“Emerson and Hubbard aren’t going anywhere. Pender isn’t going anywhere. Whatever happens, we want to be good neighbors,” Dolliver said.
More likely than a quick vote in favor of a co-op could be the potential of offering to help E-H with its most pressing need next year — high school girls basketball — while questions surrounding how a full co-op with E-H might look and whether it is best for the Pender district can be given more time and consideration by the community.
The deadline for a girls basketball co-op is Sept. 1, 2018, for the 2018-19 season.
Fall sports co-op deadlines are much sooner this summer, and practical things like scheduling games and securing officials will be very difficult to organize, it was noted.
While the schools could still cooperate in every sport next year, high school football is one exception. That deadline was missed on Nov. 1, despite Pender asking E-H to consider helping with that need ahead of the deadline. It wasn’t for another couple of weeks that E-H first reached out to other districts when it realized it would need help in a variety of sports in future years. By then, it was too late for football, which requires that schools adhere to a two-year certification and schedule before making changes.
That indecisiveness was pointed out by more than one individual who spoke at the meeting, along with E-H’s initial desire to work with Allen instead of Pender, even with a relationship already established.
There were no board members or members of the public who stated that a co-op was out of the question, either. More information, such as what will be presented at the March 27 meeting, will be needed before a decision one way or the other can be reached.