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A crowd of about 60 people listens and asks questions Wednesday at Cherry Grade School during an open school board meeting. The primary goal of the meeting was to adopt a resolution continuing with the merger between Cherry and Dimmick districts.
CHERRY — The Cherry School board unanimously adopted Wednesday a resolution forging ahead with the proposed merger with Dimmick Elementary. And that seemed A-OK with about 60 Cherry residents who gathered for a presentation on the still-pending agreement with Dimmick. The only pressing question on the public’s mind was which high school their kids would be sent after finishing the eighth grade. Administrators and board members seemed braced for complaints about merging the Cherry and Dimmick districts located 6 miles apart — and with Ladd School bypassed in the equation — but most of the questions lobbed at the board were about where the students would go to high school. At present, Dimmick students to La Salle-Peru Township High School and Cherry students go to Hall High School. But there’s a wrinkle in Illinois law that threatens to send students from the combined Cherry/Dimmick district to the same high school, whether they live in the corresponding county or not. School officials want to iron out that wrinkle and let students go to high school in their home counties. “We need your help,” board member Jim Lower said, appealing to Cherry residents to call lawmakers and push for a legislative solution. He emphasized the merger isn’t a done deal and, “It has to go through a process and the process hasn’t gone as smoothly as we’d like.” Dimmick superintendent Ryan Linnig explained the issue seems to be a disputed reading of existing law. Though many grade schools ship their kids to separate high schools — Waltham Elementary is a feeder district for three high schools — the law, depending on who is reading it, would seem to dictate that grade school kids go to high school as an entire class. Linnig said he and Cherry counterpart Jim Boyle have lobbied Springfield to pass a bill (House Bill 492) to clarify the issue and ensure that the law doesn’t override parental preferences. They hope for a late September floor vote by the Legislature, followed by action by regional school officials. “(This bill) would clean up the language in this particular situation so that we’re not dealing with this down the road,” Linnig said. Linnig further noted that while recent legislation enabled non-contiguous school districts to merge — a critical point for Dimmick and Cherry — and the legislation was enacted to simplify the process of merging schools. “We’ve found it’s more complicated than it needed to be,” he said. That issue aside, there were no vocal objections to the merger itself during Wednesday’s meeting. Nearly a quarter of the assembly quietly streamed out following the 40-minute discussion over the legislative push to let students attend their nearest high schools. Then again, there was a clear consensus from within Cherry that Dimmick was the partner of preference. Cherry school board voted in March to begin formal consolidation discussion with Dimmick. This followed a survey in which 86 percent of respondents (131 of 153 Cherry residents) chose Dimmick over Ladd Grade School, which drew 14 votes, as to which district was a better merging partner. (Eight surveys were disqualified.) “As far as the kids’ education, it’s Dimmick,” said Ken Bland of Cherry, noting that Ladd is more crowded and that Dimmick is just one more mile further away. Megan and Kevin Raef, the parents of a school-aged child and another preschooler, agreed that student body sizes and academics dictated their choice, and the pick is Dimmick. The board president emphasized that teacher contracts were being reworked to ensure job security and that the districts were conducting joint activities to let students get to know one another. Nevertheless, hurdles remain and the proposed merger could be derailed in Springfield or by local authorities. One issue won’t be Cherry’s tax burden being thrust upon Dimmick; Cherry superintendent Jim Boyle emphasized that Cherry would close out its books and any residual obligations would be borne by Cherry taxpayers alone.