HOLGATE — Following a split vote during Monday’s meeting of the Holgate Local Schools Board of Education, the district will not join the Buckeye Border Conference (BBC).

The board voted 2-3 against joining the BBC, with board president Greg Thomas and board member Liza Schuller in favor of the move, while board vice president Darlene Hoffman and board members Adam Eis and Brian Post voted against.

The district will remain in the Green Meadows Conference (GMC), although that league’s executive board has a meeting scheduled for Wednesday morning that could potentially include a vote to remove Holgate from the GMC. To remove Holgate, the GMC executive board would need a majority vote of its members. If such a vote occurs, Holgate will hold a special board meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Holgate was invited to join the BBC in October and discussions have continued since, including the formation of a committee to study the issue. The district was initially given 60 days to respond to the invitation but was granted a 30-day extension, moving the deadline to mid-January. During December’s regular board meeting, it was decided to contact the BBC to see if the district could receive another extension to further the discuss the issue, plus Eis and Post were elected in November and Monday was their first meeting as board members. Shortly after that, the district received a letter from the GMC Executive Board stating it expected a decision from Holgate by its Jan. 15 meeting or “the GMC principals will make a decision that is best for the GMC and our schools.”

Superintendent Kelly Meyers reported they received a response regarding the extension request from Pettisville High School Principal Mike Lane on behalf of the BBC, which stated: “We are split on offering another extension. However, we wish at this time to keep our invitation on the table. In the meantime, if Holgate chooses not to join the BBC, and another school shows interest, we would then formally withdraw our invitation.”

Meyers said Thomas, Hoffman, middle/high school principal Brian Hughes and herself held a conference call with a GMC executive board member earlier this month to discuss concerns of the GMC members.

Meyers said, while this board member stated he did not know how all of the member schools would vote if a vote to remove Holgate is called, the biggest concern for the GMC is Holgate’s decision to join an eight-man football league for the next four years and the scheduling impact that has on the GMC.

“That became problematic because then you’re in the league portion of your schedule and you’re without a competitor on that Friday night. It was very difficult scheduling wise, they’ve had to do some more traveling at farther distances to find somebody to play,” Meyers said, adding Holgate will now not be participating in 40% of the revenue-generating sports — football and wrestling — in the GMC. “They would prefer to have eight schools that play all, or a majority, of sports in the league.”

Meyers added nine schools in a league also causes scheduling issues.

“He said numerous times this is nothing against Holgate,” she said.

A committee was formed to study the invitation and ended its last meeting with a straw poll. Of the 12 adult committee members, nine were in favor of switching to the BBC, two wanted to stay with the GMC and one member abstained. There are five students on the committee, with all five voting in favor of switching to the BBC. A community survey had 438 responses with nearly 58% in favor of staying in the GMC and 42% in favor of moving to the BBC.

With 442 students enrolled, Holgate is at the low end of the GMC, with the next closest school at 606 (Edgerton). In the BBC, Holgate would fall as the third lowest in enrollment, with Stryker (369) and Fayette (364) lower. Tinora has the highest enrollment in the GMC at 1,126, while Montpelier is the largest in the BBC at 909.

The average travel mileage time of the GMC is 30.4 miles and 40 minutes (one-way), compared to an average of 38.1 miles and 50 minutes (one-way) for the BBC.

Two community members addressed the board, Kirk Fruth, who is in favor of staying with the GMC, and Scott Giesige, who is in favor of switching to the BBC.

Fruth, who also spoke at the December board meeting, said he still is supportive of staying in the GMC amid concerns with additional travel times for students, adding he doesn’t have anything against BBC schools and thinks it would be a good match if the schools were closer.

“It’s not just the cost, with the buses and bus drivers,” he said. “I think maybe more than anything else, student athletes that are going to be riding the bus all that extra time, all those long trips. And not just high school, junior high school students, and we’re talking about during the week getting home late at night ... and still having to go home and do homework.”

Giesige, who is also a coach for the district, said he feels as though the GMC will eventually vote them out and the BBC will find another team in the meantime.

“They (the GMC) send out an invitation and get a ninth team as they’ve already indicated they’re going to do,” he said. “They get another school to come in and they have nine schools. Then they decide they don’t want nine schools and they vote us out.

“If they vote us out, we have no league and then what do we do?” he continued. “I could be wrong, maybe they don’t kick us out. I don’t see what they gain by keeping us other than a hassle and a headache. With nine schools in a league ... it’s very hard to do (scheduling) compared to eight. In my opinion, I think it’s going to reflect poorly on Holgate to be kicked out of the league.”

Giesige said he doesn’t agree with concerns about less competition in the BBC, noting in his sports, he will have 15 other teams to play against in basketball and track includes many area teams. He added he understands the concerns about travel time, but noted students can do homework on the bus on the way to games.

“As a coach, I’ll support whatever decision, as a community member, I’ll support whatever decision you guys make, I just hope it’s thought out,” he said.

Meyers and multiple board members thanked the community, committee and school personnel for their time and efforts into all of the discussions and information gathered.

“I think everyone understands we could make a case for either side of this equation depending on which factors we chose to pick,” Meyers said. “This shouldn’t be an issue that divides us, it should bring us together.”

Post said his decision is based on concerns about the educational welfare of students and financial strain because of additional travel time and associated bus costs, an anticipated decrease in revenue at games due to lower attendance because of the longer distances between schools, the $5,000 upfront fee to join the BBC in addition to the $4,000 the district is paying to join the eight-man football league, decreased competitiveness in the BBC, keeping current rivalries and the community survey results.

“I’m basing my decision not on what the GMC thinks may happen, but that we need to do what’s best for Holgate,” he said. “I can’t go off of hearsay, I need to make my vote based on what’s best for our school and community.

“But if we decide to stay with the GMC tonight, the BBC is not going to pull the invitation at midnight,” he continued. “I think they’re waiting to see what would happen on Wednesday, and we have the ability to make any adjustments.”

Eis said academics are his main concern.

“I don’t want to see our district’s grade card drop,” he said. “I think we need to keep pushing to keep that the same and to excel.

“I don’t know if the extra travel time would be in favor of that or not,” he added.

Schuller, who noted she has a child who will be directly by the decision, said academics will always be a priority for her.

“I know from experience that many of our teachers who are also coaches open up their rooms as study-table places for kids to do their homework and to get help with that prior to a game, a meet or getting on a bus,” she said. “I would hope that, regardless of whatever decision is made here today ... that would continue.”

Thomas said, after receiving the letter from the GMC and speaking with the GMC executive committee member, he feels the decision to switch to eight-man football is crucial.

“I know there’s probably not a person in here that didn’t think we did the right decision going to an eight-man league,” Thomas said. “I never heard anybody complain about what we had to pay to get in the league. I never heard anybody complain about how many more miles we’re going to drive.

“... Everybody thought that the best thing for our kids was that league,” he continued. “But one thing we didn’t do was ask the GMC what their thoughts were going to be.”

Thomas added he’s more concerned the district could be voted out in six months or a year rather than later this week and they won’t have an another option.

“We have a place to go now. Then, we won’t,” he said. “We’re a school that has no varsity 11-man football and no soccer. There’s not too many leagues out there that are looking for someone to join their league that way other than the BBC.”

Hoffman did not share any comments on her decision Monday, but stated in a previous meeting she is concerned with the additional travel time leaving less room for homework and that impact on academics.

Following the vote, Thomas requested setting up a special meeting Wednesday if the GMC does vote the district out of the league at its meeting earlier in the day. If there’s no GMC vote, the meeting will be canceled.

E-mail comments to jenl@northwestsignal.net.

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