The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

October 25, 2011

Tri-City United: New school district settles on name

South-central Minnesota’s newest school district has a name. Now, it needs everything else.

After a lengthy process that included student and community feedback, School Board members in the Le Center and Montgomery-Lonsdale school districts have approved Tri-City United as the name of the consolidated district that will open for the 2012-13 school year. The district’s nickname is the Titans.

Residents of the two districts voted in June to consolidate and form what could be the largest district in the Minnesota River Conference with an anticipated enrollment nearing 1,800.

The sometimes emotional debate about a new school name centered largely on two choices: the geographically unspecific Tri-City United or the more inclusive, but cumbersome, Montgomery-Lonsdale-Le Center (MLLC for short).

Matt Helgerson, who is serving as superintendent in both districts and will assume top duties in the new district, characterized the process as “very stressful.” But, he also said it was essential for each community to have a stake in the final choice.

“It was a great process for making a decision,” he said.

Choosing a name, however, is only the first in a long line of difficult processes the districts must complete before their official union July 1, 2012.

Perhaps the most difficult process will be negotiating new staff contracts. In this case, the task will be complicated by the fact state law requires boards to adopt two-year contracts for teachers — which means Le Center and Montgomery-Lonsdale will have to negotiate and approve their own contract terms for the 2011-12 school year, and then have representatives from the consolidated district negotiate and approve terms for the 2012-13 school year.

Adding further complexity is that Le Center is a Q-Comp school (the state’s merit-based pay program for teachers). Before negotiations begin, the districts must decide if the new district will follow suit or opt out of the program.

To aid the process, the two districts hired Butch Hanson, former superintendent of Fairmont Area Public Schools, to serve as a facilitator and mediator. He said representatives for the district and staff began meeting this week.

“It’s a multiple-step process,” said Hanson, working now as a consultant for the South Central Service Cooperative. “(The consolidation) does offer some unique issues that need to be worked out. ... These districts have a lot on their plate.”

Helgerson said the two districts also are starting to compile a list of available courses for the 2012-13 school year. By November, he said, students should be able to register for classes. By January, the districts should have a master schedule and be able to finalize staffing needs.

“We’re making steady progress,” Helgerson said, adding that he attended seven board meetings in September alone — including two for the consolidated School Board that already has been formed.

“It’s been pretty constant.”

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