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Board votes to end classes at Regent

REGENT -- The tension was nearly visible in the Regent Public School Gymnasium Monday evening, as community members from Mott and Regent attended a special meeting of the Mott/Regent School Board to determine the future of the district.

By a vote of 4-3, split down community lines, the school board decided to close the Regent grade 5-8 location, but keep the gym open.

Heather Hertz from Mott and chair of the school board, cast the tie breaking vote. She said there were many different ways to look at the decision, but said she'd like to break it down to a phrase.

"We amputate now or we amputate later," Hertz said.

Declining enrollment and increased costs were the major deciding factors for those on the board who voted yes.

For example, enrollment for the 2007-2008 school year stood at 235 students in the school district. That number drops to 213 in 2008-2009 and as low as 186 in 2010-2011, according to projections provided by Superintendent Myron Schweitzer.

Hertz said after the meeting it wasn't a decision she liked to make, but it was a necessary one.

"I'm unhappy," Hertz said. "Not because I think the decision was necessarily a bad decision, but because it was a decision that had to be made. It wasn't something I enjoyed doing."

The meeting opened with Schweitzer going over the budget numbers with the board and between 150-200 people in attendance.

Schweitzer pointed out initial projections had predicted the school would run a deficit for the 2007-2008 school year, but in fact it finished with a surplus of $156,566.96.

Those who voted to reject the motion pointed to this as proof that they should give it more thought, and as board member Bill Gion said, "Not make a rash decision."

"We have in this district, the envy of every Class "B" school district in the state," Gion said. "I can't think of a better setting for our fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth, from what we have here."

"We didn't deficit spend this year. There is hope on the horizon," he added.

Previously, grades 5-8 attended classes at the Regent location and grades K-4 and 9-12 attended classes at the two locations in Mott, a high school and an elementary school.

Community members in attendance voiced their opinions on the matter. Among the concerns aired was a possible drop in the quality of education, if parents would chose to send their children elsewhere and if the closing of the school would have an adverse effect on the community of Regent.

Gion pointed to the communities of Golva, Gladstone, Reeder and Lefor as examples of what has happened to other towns in southwestern North Dakota where the school has closed.

The number one concern, voiced by several in attendance, was what affect the decision will have on the relationship between the communities.

"I think it was very disappointing," Gion said. "It did not create harmony in our district. There's a right and a wrong way about doing things...and it's my thought that we took the wrong path tonight."

Gion added he didn't think it would come to a vote tonight, following the input from the community.

"Never in my wildest dreams did I think we were going to make that bold of a decision," he said.

Hertz said she too is worried about the rift that could develop between the communities, but the decision had to be made.

"I think that the people who voted to make this change, truly did it with the interest of the school district and the students in mind...I think it's better to be ahead of the curve than to be behind it," she said.

"I think it'll be a challenge for the two communities to maintain the relationship that we've had during the consolidation. I hope that we can. It'll be tough," Hertz said.