CONSOLIDATION MAY NOT BE BAD AFTER ALL
Now it's time to sort out truth from fiction. Let's start with what's not true.
Fiction: Enterprise and Joseph schools are merging.
Fiction: The Enterprise and Joseph school boards are solidly behind a consolidation of their schools.
FACT: A consolidation of the schools is not on the table right now.
Fact: The superintendents of the two school districts have asked the Wallowa County Education Service District to conduct a study on the feasibility of consolidating the two school districts.
Fact: The ESD is not expected to conclude its study until March. It will not make a recommendation. The Enterprise and Joseph school boards and administrators will sort through the ESD's findings to see if a consolidation plan should be pursued.
It's understandable why residents of Wallowa County are buzzing about a merger of the two districts. Whenever the C-word (consolidation) is brought up, emotions run high and tongues start wagging. Questions naturally pop to the surface: Where will school be held: in Enterprise or Joseph, or in both communities? Will the high school sports teams be called Eagles, Savages or some combination of the two? Could the kids from these rival communities get along with each other under one roof? (Of course they can.)
MORE TO THE POINT, residents of the two communities should be asking such questions as: How much longer can the school districts, only six miles apart, be kept separate, given the major enrollment declines that have occurred and the resulting loss of state dollars? Could a merger be the best answer? How much in property taxes, if any, can residents save if consolidation occurs?
We're glad that the Enterprise and Joseph school districts are at least willing to look at such important issues. Wallowa County ESD Superintendent Ed Jensen and Dave Smyth, a former ESD superintendent, will be teaming up in the study to review such items as population trends, tax consequences, classroom sizes and sports considerations.
THE DISTRICTS in the county to the east have done something bold: they have gotten the C-word out there in the open, where people can praise it or shoot bullets at it. Should other consolidation studies be conducted in Northeast Oregon? Probably so. Elgin with Imbler and Cove with Union, or North Powder with Union come to mind. And don't leave the Wallowa School District out of the discussion.
The fact is that state funding for rural schools is getting harder to come by, especially when enrollments are declining and the state's economy is tight. Consolidation, in some cases, might not turn out to be such an ugly word after all.