E-H faces tough — but more and more common — choices
I don’t envy the Emerson-Hubbard board of education. From the expressions on faces of numerous community members who vocalized their thoughts and concerns about the need to cooperate with another school district on athletics much sooner than later, no one else in the gymnasium did either.
The school district comprising Emerson and Hubbard and the rural miles around and between has a choice to make, and the reality of it is that it’s becoming a more and more common one. Through multitudes of factors, small school populations are generally down, and participation rates are also generally down.
It would be wise to study the reasons for all of those things happening to understand them, but the meantime result is still the same. Fewer school districts can give their kids great experiences on their own. And with that last sentence, I just opened up one of many waves of controversy. What is a great high school athletic experience?
It’s pretty subjective. It’s in the eye of the beholder. Some might say winning. Others, getting the chance to play in games. Or is it having full rosters so that you can have effective practices and develop players? If you’re not dressed in purple and gold and identifying as an Emerson-Hubbard Pirate, does any of that matter?
These are the sorts of questions that make the decisions facing E-H so very difficult. Both the Dakota County Star and The Pender Times cover the E-H community, so I made the decision to attend the district’s open meeting last Tuesday, Dec. 19.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t want to be there. Especially in the opening minutes. It felt like being in the living room while a family argues about something meaningful and personal to them.
But the members of that family were — in almost all cases — extremely respectful of one another. They took turns making statements, asking questions (rhetorical and otherwise), and even though not everyone spoke from the same perspective, there was genuine concern for the future of their school and the experiences their children might have as a result of whatever happens next.
I happen to live in Pender, and my children go to school at Pender Public Schools. It is among the districts that makes the most sense for E-H to approach about cooperating in sports, along with Allen, Wakefield and Homer.
If an overture from Emerson-Hubbard to Pender happens, essentially all of the same questions that were being asked by its district patrons will have to be answered here, too. The one difference may be the sense of urgency as Pender’s upcoming classes are, by and large, getting a bit bigger. I know after having listened to the Pender school board discuss the topic that, if approached, E-H will be given an ample opportunity to explain their situation and to explore options. Beyond that, there’s a process that would have to be defined and followed and would most certainly include the views of district patrons in the Pender-Thurston community that comprises PPS.
It’d be the same for any school that enters into an agreement — a combination of facts, philosophies and soul searching with as many opinions as participants.
There are valid viewpoints all through discussions like this, harkening back to earlier in this column and what really does define a “great experience” for student-athletes.
The only thing that tends to come up in these discussions I’d like to take some time to dispel is the notion of district consolidation. No one is talking about combining school districts with this discussion.
The goal for all school districts ought to be independence, so long as the local funding is there to sustain that. Neither E-H or PPS are in dire economic circumstances where they are heavily reliant on state aid or seeing rapid drops in taxable property. I’m not as familiar with the other school districts in the conversation to know their unique situations, but I haven’t heard otherwise.
Should E-H choose to cooperate in activities with another school district, I would concede that if consolidation ever becomes necessary in the future that the co-op choice would probably become one factor on that mythical day. But consolidation is an entirely different animal and would pack with it many other considerations. That, coupled with the fact it may never need to happen, shouldn’t make it a major focus of today’s discussions by any of the districts that may be asked to consider E-H as a partner.
I’ll end this by saying good luck to Emerson-Hubbard. The goal of remaining an independent school district is not lessened by reaching out to neighbors, it is ultimately strengthened. The more and better the opportunities that can be afforded students, the more of them ought to be retained or attracted to attend E-H. Figuring out how to accomplish that is now the difficult task at hand for the board and administration. The job they signed up for is always riddled with tough decisions, but few more gut wrenching than when tradition is part of the equation.
If the calm, thoughtful and concerned demeanor the E-H family showed during their meeting last week is any indication, though, I think whoever ends up joining them will find a group of people who want to put their kids first. It was really hard to know how the group assembled was leaning in which direction they’d most want to go, but I came away impressed at how little room for doubt there was about that.