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Friday, January 11, 2013 8:59 PM

Consolidation looms over race

By CRYSTAL HERBER, Herald Staff Writer

POMONA — A consolidation debate in western Franklin County appears to have prompted two recent filings for the West Franklin school board.

Matt Froggatte and Bruce Rockhold, both of Williamsburg, filed for position 6 on the board. Both candidates agreed talks of consolidating the district’s three campuses — Pomona, Appanoose and Williamsburg — pushed them into joining the race.

“That is the only motivating factor,” Rockhold, 41, said of the consolidation plans. “I totally disagree with what’s going on.”

Froggatte and Rockhold said they worry closing the school in Williamsburg will “kill” the town. As a property owner and father with four children in the school district, Froggatte said, he is concerned consolidation would produce disastrous results for the city.

“It’s my opinion that we need to explore and examine all the possible options that we have available before we jump into anything,” Froggatte, 40, said. “If I could, I would like to see us be able to keep both Williamsburg and Appanoose schools open.”

Given the state of the economy, Froggatte said, this might not be the best time to increase taxes on constituents by passing a bond issue that would fund the construction of a centralized campus in Pomona, which is among the current school board’s plans.

Position 6 on the board currently is filled by Thayne Bush, board president, who has not filed for re-election. Bush has participated in the past several months’ consolidation talks and has shown support at meetings for a bond election — planned for June — that eventually would result in consolidation.

School officials have cited the potential for major funding cuts to education in the coming year as a result of Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax plan as a reason for consolidation. And while Rockhold said he understands that threat, he said he thinks other options might be better than closing two schools.

“I’m not set on absolutely ‘No, we’re not going to close Williamsburg.’ I’m a realist,” he said. “If that’s what needs to happen, then that’s what will happen, but I want us to be able to have a voice and be able to direct what does happen.”

Froggatte has served in a public service role before — as the current president of the Williamsburg Recreation Commission.

While Rockhold has no previous public service experience, he said he thinks he can provide new ideas to the board and sees the position as a potential learning experience.

“[I have] a passion to do the right thing,” Rockhold said. “I honestly have no background as far as school board. It’s just in my opinion this is what I think needs to be done.”

Both candidates said, if elected, they would work to be a voice for the people. They said they felt like the current board was not listening to the concerns of the patrons they serve.

“I would like whatever everyone’s opinion was, that should be what happens,” Rockhold said, citing a survey sent last year to patrons, the results of which indicated the majority of patrons wanted to keep Williamsburg and Appanoose open and pass a bond issue that would fund updating the buildings at all three campuses.

Froggatte said he thinks the board could do a better job with transparency and providing adequate amounts of information to the public — especially in the case of the consolidation talks.

“Right now, the feel is [that the board does] a lot of things behind closed doors,” Froggatte said. “And then there’s the community, and we don’t know things as things are developing.”

Though school consolidation is on their minds, both candidates said, if elected, they would be able to focus on more than that one issue facing the rural school district.

School board positions 2, 4 and 5 — currently filled by Stacia Spencer, Stacy Hower and Sherry Harris, respectively — also are open for re-election in the April 2 general election. No candidates, including those now serving, have filed for those positions on the board.

The filing deadline is noon Jan. 22 in the Franklin County Clerk’s Office, 315 S. Main St., Ottawa.

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