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TAYLOR, Neb. (AP) — Low enrollment in a small high school in Nebraska’s Sandhills region will trigger a vote on the fate of the school district where state education officials have been working to improve student performance.

Loup County Public Schools’ low enrollment has prompted a state law that would force the district to dissolve unless residents vote in November to keep it open, the Lincoln Journal Star reported .

If enrollment of a high school dips below 25 students for two consecutive years, the school must merge with one of the nearby high schools. Loup County’s high school has 21 students.

The law was amended two years ago to allow residents to vote on whether to keep the school open. If the school is kept open, residents would have to vote each year until enrollment reaches 35.

The law applies to districts with high schools that are within 15 miles of another district’s high school. Both Sargent and Burwell public schools are within that distance of Loup County.

Loup County Superintendent Rusty Ruppert said the specific distance seems like an arbitrary number that requires the district to pay for an annual election.

“It’s a numbers thing,” he said. “What’s magic about 15 miles? If you’re 15.5 miles you’re OK as far as the statute goes and if you’re 15, you’re not. I’m not sure what’s magical about that.”

If the district dissolves, residents could choose which neighboring district to affiliate with.

Loup County was named one of three “priority schools” as part of the Nebraska Department of Education’s new accountability system that classifies school districts into four levels based on performance. Officials said they selected the district because it faces struggles common in rural districts.

“We set this (priority school system) up to learn lessons,” said Matt Blomstedt, the state’s education commissioner. He said if the district “does go through with the process of dissolution there will be lessons we learn from that. It will help inform policy no matter what.”


Information from: Lincoln Journal Star,