Area school districts team up for grant dollars



August 17, 2011 - 12:00 AM

If you can’t beat ’em, 
join ’em.
That’s the mentality that has USD 256, 257 and 258 putting their heads together to figure out how to bring $150,000 to Allen County schools.
U.S. Cellular, through its nationwide Calling All Communities contest, will donate $150,000 to the school receiving the most online votes during the competition that runs from Sept. 9 to Oct. 6. The communications company also will donate $50,000 to the next 17 vote-getters
“Sometimes we have a better chance … as a combination than individually,” said David Hardage, superintendent of Moran schools, of why his district, the Iola district and Humboldt districts are joining forces
To discuss the partnership in the quest for U.S. Cellular funds as well as any challenges that might arise, USD 257 Superintendent of Schools Brian Pekarek, Humboldt elementary and middle school principal Kay Bolt and Thrive Allen County Executive Director David Toland, along with Hardage, met with U.S. Cellular representatives Tuesday afternoon at Iola city hall.
“None of the three districts by themselves in Allen County would necessarily have enough parents and alumni to be able to win this contest,” Toland said. “By working together across the county … we all have a shot at actually making a difference for kids.”
The school officials agreed to pursue a get-out-the-vote campaign through collaboration.
Which school to use as the official benefactor was the tricky part, not to mention how to convince people from the other two communities that voting for the other guys would still mean gains for them as well as how to split the money.
Which school to vote for?
“Are parents really going to remember Jefferson Elementary School? They’ll remember Iola High School or Iola Middle School but they may not remember one of the elementary schools,” Pekarek said.
Athletic rivalries among the high schools, the potential for multiple elementary school building confusion and a lack of base enrollment numbers in Moran and Humboldt all contributed to the educators’ decision to use Iola Middle School.
“I like the idea of middle school rather than high school because (high schools) are tied with sports,” Toland said, in agreement with Pekarek as well as Hardage and Bolt.
Rallying support
“We need to outline that we’re voting for one school but this is for Allen County,” Bolt said of how to get Humboldt and Moran residents to vote for an Iola school.
Failure to thoroughly educate community members that a vote for Iola Middle School is a vote for Moran and Humboldt schools, Toland said, could compromise the effort.
“What we don’t want is this to split off, where we have unity at the beginning and then we get a splinter group from one of the three districts that says ‘you know what, forget that,’ and pick their own school,” Toland said.  
The districts will use fliers, public reminders at sporting events and social media like Facebook to encourage support and garner votes.
The money
There was some disagreement on how to divvy the money.
To the objection of Bolt and Hardage, Pekarek suggested splitting the money on a per-student scale.
“I think if we’re going to do this with each other and go out and get our families, friends, neighbors and everyone else to vote, they might actually think it’s going to be a three-way split, and if it’s not and people know that, people aren’t going to vote,” Bolt said. “This is Allen County. If you’re going to do for one, you’re going to do for everyone.”
Hardage said partnering with two other districts wouldn’t be worth the hassle if the money was portioned based on students.  
“If we go on (full-time enrollment), that’s not going to get us anything. There’s no reason why we couldn’t get as many votes as you guys,” he said. “The possibilities of our small district producing a lot of votes are very strong because we can reach our people.”
The administrators agreed each district would receive $50,000 if they win the contest or $16,666 for a top 18 finish.
Toland and the administrators are looking to form a committee to help steer the Calling All Communities campaign and invite interested members of the public to join by contacting any of the three district offices or Thrive Allen County. The group will meet again at 4 p.m. Aug. 30 in the Iola High School lecture hall.
Patricipants must be 18 or older and have a valid email address to vote for the three-district team. Prior to voting at, voters must pre-register at any U.S. Cellular location.

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