IDA GROVE, Iowa | Twice before, a proposed consolidation of the Odebolt-Arthur and Battle Creek-Ida Grove school districts went down to defeat.
Backers of a former merger between the neighboring schools hope the third time's a charm Tuesday.
The districts have had a whole-grade sharing agreement for eight years, with the middle school in Odebolt and high school in Ida Grove. Both towns have their own elementary schools for grades K-5.
In Iowa, school consolidations require approval from a majority of voters in each district. Twice before, in 2011 and 2016, voters in Battle Creek-Ida Grove gave overwhelming approval, while it failed in Odebolt-Arthur.
In the most recent election, 84 percent of BC-IG voters approved consolidation, while only 43 percent in O-A favored it. After the required eight-month waiting period following a failed election, backers petition to put the issue back on the ballot for Tuesday's special election. Polls are open from noon to 8 p.m.
Residents in each district said last week the passion on the controversial consolidation issue has tapered off somewhat after the most recent vote.
"I think it is a sign that everybody got beat up and emotionally spent on the last election," said Terry Kenealy, the superintendent for both districts. "Since December, everything got really, really quiet."
Kenealy said he's heard from people who opposed the consolidation in December who plan to vote affirmatively this time.
"Maybe it has turned, but I don't know. We don't do polling," the superintendent said.
Al Wilke of Odebolt, a former Odebolt-Arthur teacher who supports the consolidation, said the issue is "a bit more low key this time," but added it's "no less important."
"The communities need each other, as far as combining their resources together and moving forward," Wilke said. "It is hard to go it alone."
The BC-IG district lies within Ida County, while O-A covers portions of Ida and Sac counties. Both are largely rural counties. Population losses driven largely by a reduction in the number of farms have shrunk enrollments for both districts in recent years.
Before a major wave of school consolidations that began in the 1950s, the four towns each had their own schools. Odebolt and Arthur merged in 1956, and Battle Creek and Ida Grove followed suit in 1994.
The last of eight public information meetings before Tuesday's consolidation vote will be held at 7 p.m. Monday at the school in Odebolt. Kenealy said the meetings held in all four towns have been sparsely attended, with no one showing up to the most recent one on June 20.
Kenealy said there are a few social media accounts set up to share information about the vote. Unlike last year, few signs on either side of the issue have been planted in yards.
Pat Hoefling has lived in Odebolt his entire life and is on his second term on the Odebolt-Arthur School Board. Hoefling said he is neutral on the consolidation vote.
Kenealy said no buildings would close as part of the reorganization.
"Everything they see now they will still see," he said.
The consolidation would remove some overlapping expenses in the two districts by about $50,000 to $70,000 annually and reduce property taxes for three years, since the state offers financial incentives for districts that consolidate, he said. The so-called Uniform Levy in school funding resources would drop from $5.40 to $4.40 per $1,000 of assessed property valuation, which would total about a combined $700,000 over three years, with state money to fill the gap, he said.
However, through consolidation the district would lose state money toward sharing positions such as a superintendent, business manager and other positions. The two districts now share 11 positions, and Kenealy is heading into his third year as shared superintendent.