HAMBURG – School officials announced Friday that they are taking the next step toward possible reorganization/consolidation of the Hamburg and Farragut School Districts.
Hamburg Schools Superintendent Terry Kenealy sent an e-mail on Thursday confirming that 356 signatures from Hamburg and 270 signatures from Farragut had been collected – which is enough to move forward.
"I'm just very happy we had enough signatures to move on to the next step, and we'll be able to get more facts and information out to the public," said Farragut School Board President Jenny Varellas.
Kenealy met with Farragut Superintendent Tom Hinrichs, Varellas and Hamburg School Board President Dave Mincer on Thursday in Hamburg, where both presidents signed the petition with a notary present.
Kenealy transported the petition to the AEA office that day.
Farragut and Hamburg School Districts have been whole-grade sharing for three years, but declining enrollment numbers and financial difficulties have recently brought to a head discussion about whether the two districts should reorganize (consolidate), continue whole-grade sharing and hope things level out, or look for other options.
If the petition meets all requirements for final approval, it will be up to the voters to decide whether or not reorganization/consolidation is the answer.
"I think it should go before the people to see what they want to do," said Hamburg School Boardmember Phil Kuhr. "That's always been my position.
"I didn't like the way the petition was worded necessarily. I would have have wrote it differently.
Kuhr said that despite all the emotions surrounding the issue, he wanted to maintain as much neutrality as possible.
"Hopefully, everything will check out and they'll get it on the ballot in December and let people decide for themselves… I'm not really willing to give out my personal opinion as to what I want at this time. I just want the people that I represent to have very definite opinions… Let the people speak - that's what it's for."
Hamburg School Boardmember Steve Stenzel said there was "a major push" to go door-to-door in Hamburg after Monday night's meeting to get signatures.  
While the majority of those asked were willing to sign, "obviously, that doesn't mean 90 percent of the district's voters will vote for consolidation, but of the people we spoke to 90 percent wanted to have that option available to them in December."
Stenzel said that during the last few days, even students were willing to help round up signatures.
Hamburg School Boardmember Reva Benefiel said she had been waiting to hear the news like everyone else.
"That's what we were waiting for was for people to sign it or not sign it. And now we just move through the process," she said. "The state has it very well spelled out what happens next, so we move right through it."
Despite everything else, Benefiel hopes citizens continue to seek the advice and counsel of the school board.
"Our role as school board members is to take what the people hand us and deal with it," she said. "I think people need to continue to make contact with their leaders like in any form of government - stay in touch and stay informed."

What happens next?
According to the Iowa AEA website, the AEA board will review the petition upon receipt. Within 10 days, the AEA will fix a final date for filing objections, which is not to exceed 60 days after the filing date. At least 10 days prior to the final day, the AEA will publish a hearing notice in the local newspaper. The AEA must do one of three things and publish the decision in the same newspaper in which the original hearing notice was published:
- Dismiss the petition;
- Fix the boundary lines as stated in the original petition; or
- Amend the petition and fix the boundary lines as amended.

The 10-day requirement begins once the hearing or hearings have concluded. If the AEA determines that additional information is required, the board may continue the hearing for no more than 30 days. The date of the continued hearing shall be announced at the original hearing.

After time for appeal has lapsed, the AEA administrator must set a date for a special election. According to the Iowa AEA website, "when the boundaries of the territory to be included in a proposed school corporation and the number and method of the election of the school directors have been determined, the AEA administrator shall give written notice of the proposed date of the election to the county commissioner of elections of the county in the district which is a party in the reorganization and which has the greatest taxable base."
If the reorganization is to take place by the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year, the vote must take place before the end of 2014.