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Auburn Union, Placer Hills districts keep reorganization conversation going

By: Loryll Nicolaisen, Journal staff writer
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It’s been said that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Just because a school district merger isn’t going to happen after one meeting doesn’t mean the Auburn Union Elementary and Placer Hills Union school districts aren’t going to stop examining the possibilities. “It was a good first step,” Fred Adam, Placer Hills superintendent, said of Tuesday’s meeting between the two Auburn-area school districts. “I thought there were good questions and I think it was a very positive step in the process.” Tuesday was the first time both full boards, along with administrators from both districts, talked about the possibility of consolidation and reorganization. Michele Schuetz, Auburn Union superintendent, said she and Adam have been discussing the subject for the past couple years. She said the meeting Tuesday offered a good opportunity for trustees from both boards to ask questions and share ideas. “We thought it was a productive meeting,” she said. Transportation, finances and shared services were among topics discussed. Administrators explained that a merger, whether in the form of consolidation or reorganization, wouldn’t provide the financial lifesaver either district might need, but that’s not the only point to consider on the subject. “From the programmatic side, when we’re looking at programs that add to the students’ experiences, we think we can develop better programs at some cost savings,” Adam said. “You’re not going to see $1 million in savings that will solve everythinng between the two districts.” Also discussed Tuesday was the subject of shared services. Auburn Union provides some food and special education services to the Placer Hills district. Some trustees asked if the districts could find more ways to share services, and costs. “My first thought is, seeing how we could merge some programs, whether it be music or counseling,” Tracy Critchfield, a Placer Hills trustee, said. “I’m just trying to salvage something that is so important to all of us.” Auburn trustee Lynn Hargrove piggybacked on Critchfield’s thought. “I think it’s great, if we can share,” she said. Clark Gehlbach, Auburn board president, said focusing on shared services shouldn’t be top priority. “It just seems like, if we’re going to think about merging, that’s really decorating the main residence of the Titanic while it’s going down,” he said. Gehlbach was referring to the districts’ fiscal challenges, which are magnified by the state budget crisis. Adam said district reorganization and shared services are two conversations that could continue concurrently. “It is a reality that all small districts need to have this conversation,” he said about shared services. “We’re looking at ways that shared services benefit not just the Auburn and Placer Hills schools but the whole foothills group.” While no action was taken at Tuesday’s meeting, trustees from both boards told their respective superintendents they’d like to keep the merger conversation going. “I would certainly like to see continuing dialog between our boards and our superintendents,” Critchfield said. “I think it’s healthy.” Auburn Union trustees meet in regular session Wednesday, and Placer Hills trustees meet in regular session Feb. 11. Both superintendents said their boards are scheduled to discuss the possible merger at their meetings.