ENTERPRISE - A study of a merger of the Joseph and Enterprise school districts, released last week, has drawn mixed reviews.

Funded by the Wallowa County Education Service District, the study outlines how a merger between the two school districts would be economically feasible. Any decision on consolidation now is in the hands of the Joseph and Enterprise school boards.

The study, prepared by past ESD superintendent Dave Smyth and current ESD superintendent Ed Jensen, states the only way to make the proposed merger pencil out is to move all junior high school and high school students to Enterprise and all kindergartners through sixth graders to Joseph.

Joseph board member Greg Brink said the merger idea won't make it passed the Joseph School Board. Enterprise board member Kathy Siebe, though, favors the idea of merging the two schools.

"Financially and educationally it makes sense," she said.

Brink said the Enterprise School District is in worse financial condition, citing a bond issue that Joseph will pay off in two years, and Enterprise owing $2.4 million on a bond it will be paying off for another 10 years. If the two districts merge, Joseph would pick up an equal share of the $2.4 million bond.

Siebe, however, is concerned with declining enrollment and how it will continue to damage the quality of education at the two districts. She fears that without a merger programs will be cut so drastically that education will revert to the bare bones minimum of "reading, writing and arithmetic."

Based on the 2000 census and school-age population by grade level, the two high schools would have a combined graduating class of 282 students in 2003 and 165 students 10 years from now.

For the merger to proceed, both school boards would have to request the ESD to take the next step. Because only 5 percent of the registered voters must sign a petition to put the matter up to a vote, the next logical step would be to have an election. Voters from both school districts would have to be in a majority before a merger could happen.

Since budgets were in place last October, the Enterprise School District has lost $580,384 in revenue and the Joseph School District an additional $359,950.

Jensen and Smyth said the proposed merger won't eliminate the problems of declining enrollments and the state budgetary crisis, but would give the newly formed district more flexibility to deal with a financial problem that will not be solved overnight.

The study notes that the lack of cash carryovers at the two schools and start-up costs of nearly $550,000 require that a merged district be financed by a five year levy, valued at 50 cents per $1,000 of assessed property valuation. The levy, if passed, would generate $190,000 a year and provide the new district with funds to make a smooth transition.

The merger and the five-year levy could be voted on at the same time.

"It looks like a very interesting proposal to me," said Brad Royse, Enterprise superintendent.

He said the proposal would save threatened elective programs such as shop, home economics, art, music, video production and high school athletic programs.

The defeat of Measure 28 will force the economically strapped Enterprise School District to cut nine days from it school year. The Joseph district will consume most of its cash carryover to keep its school year intact.

The merger study was released Tuesday evening when Smyth and Jensen distributed the lengthy report and presented a presentation to the Joseph, Enterprise and ESD school boards. That meeting was held in the Wallowa Memorial Hospital conference room.

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