CLARION - The Clarion Area School board had a surprise guest at its July 5 work session -- Clarion-Limestone School Board President Nathaniel Parker made an impromptu presentation to the board regarding the possibility of the respective districts sharing services.
"I wanted to see whether or not (the Clarion Area) school board had interest in having discussions to see whether or not there are other areas where we can collaborate and try to find ways to be more efficient for our taxpayers and be more prolific for our students," Parker said.
Currently, Clarion and C-L partner in special education services.
"This is the early stages where people start getting the pitchforks out and they will be coming for me but I'm not talking about merging the schools and I have no focus on any particular sport," Parker said. "This is more a matter of (utilizing) administrative resources. We need to have administrative programming where education should be our focus."
Parker said he believes the sharing of services could go further than just the two districts.
"Are there ways we could work together and start something that might go to other schools too?" Parker asked. "There are a lot of other schools in the surrounding area and if we could find a mechanism, something that works to give our kids all of our kids more robust programming such as Advanced Placement courses, industrial arts classes, etc."
C-L has a vocational agriculture program which includes welding instruction. Parker said C-L has been asked in the past by other districts about students coming to C-L to take welding courses.
"There is no limit to what I see being out there but it has to be cost-effective for both districts," Parker said.
However, if there is collaboration, Parker believes the districts' keeping their independence is crucial.
"We have to make sure both districts maintain their autonomy," Parker said. "I know your district has constituents who don't want to be run by me and my board and I have constituents who don't want to be run by you and your board," Parker said. "There are some key hurdles and there are some important issues (that have to be looked at). There are going to be some impassioned people that even though I say I don't want to merge the schools who will say that's what I'm doing."
Parker continued, "I have no desire to (merge the districts) and my board has not told me to do that. "What (my board) has indicated is a willingness to at least have discussions."
One area Parker thinks needs to be kept separate are the sports programs.
"I want to focus on academics, because to me, sports are kind of the hot-button issue when it comes to merging the schools," Parker said. "If you take that and put that off to the side and just try to educate kids whether it's for getting them ready for a career or to get them ready for college, that's the focus and that's what we should be here for."
Clarion and C-L are currently in cooperative agreements for football, boys' soccer, girls' soccer and wrestling.
Parker believes the districts need to figure out what academic program collaborations work and which collaborations don't work and figure out how to fix them. Parker also realizes the financial limits of both districts.
"There is only so much you guys can do with your resources much like there is only so much we can do with our resources; both of our districts have a limited checkbook," Parker said. "To me, there have to be certain programs that lend themselves to working together. There are also programs out there that just don't work together. Let's just figure out the programs that don't work and leave them alone while if we find something we can work together on, it would cut your costs in half and cut your costs in half and that to me would be a win-win."
Clarion Area School Board President Hugh Henry said he understands Parker's concern regarding people thinking he is trying to merge the districts.
"In the past we have had committees put together and sometimes the public thinks when you build a committee, you are headed in a certain direction," Henry said. "Have you given any thought to how we would resource materials or have research without concerning the districts on these subjects?"
Parker responded, "Obviously messaging and communication is key. Admittedly, at C-L we struggle with that and that has caused us issue because the rumor mill tends to go even though there is no truth to it."
Parker believes select members of both boards should be involved in the discussions.
"I think it would be good to have some key people meet and have discussions," Parker said. "We don't need a committee necessarily but we also don't need a quorum of the board. Maybe just a couple people from each board and the administration."
Redundancy is something Parker thinks a sharing situation could help solve.
"It just doesn't make sense for us financially to duplicate the same programs," Parker said.
Parker went on to say that it would make no sense for every district in the region try to start up a vo-ag program when C-L has one up and running.
Henry told Parker he and the Clarion Area board would discuss the issue and reach back out to him.