Emotional damage left behind after no consolidation vote for Hutsonville and Palestine schools

The topic of consolidation brought out not only opinions, but many emotions in both Hutsonville and Palestine communities.

Posted: Mar. 21, 2018 10:47 PM

CRAWFORD COUNTY, Ill. (WTHI) - The topic of consolidation brought out not only opinions, but many emotions in both Hutsonville and Palestine communities.

"I want to thank everybody that went out and voted," said Maria Bantican-Garrard, Palestine resident, "It was greatly appreciated."

For Bantican-Garrard, pioneer pride runs deep as her children attend school in the area. That's why Tuesday's vote of possibly consolidating Palestine and Hutsonville schools meant a lot to her.

"I felt that consolidation would eventually take out our town," she said.

A Committee of 10, made up of people from both communities, was formed to study and look into consolidation possibilites for the districts. Over a course of several months, they've hosted numerous meetings and town halls for residents to educate themselves on what merging both districts would entail.

Voters were left to decide if they wanted consolidation on Tuesday. While the vote passed in Clark County, it ultimately failed in Crawford County.

For Superintendent Julie Kraemer, it's a disappointment, but Hutsonville schools are working towards moving on.

"It was never about the money, financially we're ok, it was about opportunities," she said, "So from my point, my opportunities now are going to come, just in a different manner."

Kraemer says Hutsonville schools will continue to work toward filling certain positions as well as implementing a grant they received.

"This Polycom is involved in a USDA grant that will actually allow our students to have opportunities to connect with bigger schools, or different schools, and take classes at real time," Kraemer said, "Meaning while class is going on at Altamont, my students will be taking that same class here, they will be able to see the teachers, they'll raise their hands, they'll be able to ask questions. So we were developing and kind of looking at that."

The no consolidation vote is what Kraemer considers deja vu as they met a similar fate in 2002. However, she says, the focus this time is on repairing the emotional damage left behind in the process.

"The personal attacks on the individuals involved, the committee itself, the school district, the building, the students, the teachers, and the faculty and staff," she said, "Those are things that concern me now because that's what's different."

"How do we rebuild those comments and things that were said that can't be undone?" Kraemer added.

Palestine Superintendent Chris Long was not available for comment on Tuesday.

News 10 spoke with Palestine School Board President Corie Biggs about the failed vote. Biggs shared similar views as Kraemer when it came to the emotional divide between both communities.

"It was never intended to be a Palestine vs. Hutsonville battle," he said, "I think it was a difference of opinions in terms of what our school boards thought were best for our students and what the long term solutions should be."

"There are great kids from Hutsonville, there are great parents from Hutsonville, just like there are in Palestine," he added, "and so I guess really, what I was really disappointed about, is the level of divisiveness that this turned in to, and there was a lot of social media discussions and things that were not positive and didn't contribute to the process."

With Palestine's district being financially sound and having strong academics, Biggs says they are now using this time to regroup, talk with the community and look into other opportunities.

"There are a number of reorganization options that we could explore with other communities," he said, "There are actually even some in our community that think we should explore other reorganization options with Hutsonville."

"We've partnered with co-op sports with Hutsonville for a long period of time," Biggs added, "I think, again, I don't know if consolidation is the answer, but I think there are other reorganization options that could make sense."

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