Overwhelming support shown for consolidation

Cathy Decker/Staff reporter

By a more than 76 percent margin in Aledo Community Unit School District #201 and more than 69 percent margin in Westmer Community Unit School District #203, voters agreed to consolidate the two school districts into a new district on Nov. 4, 2008.

The votes from the 14 precincts in Aledo were 2,271 yes and 714 no. Westmer's six precincts voted 1,034 yes and 458 no for the consolidation. The CUSD will be formed for the 2009-2010 school year, with a new seven member school board chosen during this election. They will begin their duties on July 1, 2009.

Waiting at the Mercer County Courthouse for the results was Victor Johnson, co-chairman of the Committee of 10, who along with co-chairman Eric Coulter, led the committee through a nearly yearlong planning session to come up with the best plan to merge the two districts. Declining enrollment was the main impetus for this merge.

"We didn't really know how this was going to turn out," said Johnson. "I'm very thankful that it did pass."

He said the committee worked very hard to get the message out into the community. "It was a team effort."

He said he was both surprised at the overwhelming vote and pleased. "The new school board is going to have a lot of tough decisions to make."

Johnson said that the Committee of 10 held a good number of informational meetings in both communities, but it was difficult to predict whether voters were in agreement with the merge. He said the tax base for the new combined district would be around $107 million, as opposed to the separate districts trying to survive on $71 million for Aledo and $36 million for Westmer.

"I didn't have any idea it would pass with this much approval," he said.

Twelve people were on the ballot to become part of the school board, with voters choosing seven (Doug Ball, Trisha Hank, Michael L. Retherford, Donald Yates, Dwight L. Shoemaker, Steven Laurence Willits and Kay Forret). The following tally includes results from Mercer County as well as voters in the two districts from Henderson and Rock Island counties:Doug Ball 2,625, Trisha Hank 2,350, Michael L. Retherford 2,342, Donald L. Yates 2,177, Dwight L. Shoemaker 1,978, Steven Laurence Willits 1,922, Kay Forret 1,859, Todd E. Line 1,846, Michael L. Hedrick 1,827, Ira H. Cunningham 1,810, Marta Tucker 1,577 and Mike Bowns 709.