School district changes in Iowa

When tracking what happens to Iowa's school districts, the Iowa Department of Education's list of reorganizations doesn't tell the whole story. While the department maintains the official list, and its records are law, schools often start whole-grade-sharing agreements years before being recognized as "one" district. In such an agreement, the districts remain legally separate but junior high students go to one and high school students go to the other. For example, Aplington-Parkersburg has been "Aplington-Parkersburg" since 1992, but only legally recognized as one district beginning in 2004. Others, such as Woden-Crystal Lake-Titonka, could never officially reorganize because their combined enrollment is below 300 - which is why that school ceased to exist in 2011. (In fact, W-CL and T remained in separate Area Education Agencies until the end.)

In addition, that's not all that happens to small-town schools. As districts merge and enrollment shrinks, buildings that were reduced to junior-high-only or elementary-only are closed. Others are torn down. Example: Meservey's building became a junior high in 1963 with the formation of Meservey-Thornton, was closed in 1983 when everyone went to Thornton, and was torn down in the early '90s.

After a flurry of Baby Boom-related expansion in 1967-73 (Des Moines Hoover, Cedar Rapids Kennedy, Iowa City West, Dubuque Hempstead, and Sioux City replacing four high schools with three new buildings in 1972), in the 50 years since, only four NEW high schools have been/will be created in the state: Davenport North (1985), Ankeny Centennial (2013), Iowa City Liberty (2017), and a second Waukee high school (2021). (Districts have built new facilities, and suburban ones exploded in enrollment, but school identities moved as well and the number of high schools did not change.)

The list below relies on news articles, the Department of Education's directory, Department of Public Instruction/Department of Education decisions made available online, and other sources to track changes. It's organized by school year (July 1 to June 30). The modern age of school districts in Iowa began in 1965, when the Legislature passed a law requiring that all areas of the state be part of a school district with a high school, finally ending the era of one-room schools. That law was modified slightly in 1983 to open the door to whole-grade-sharing arrangements, which is why some districts today can be elementary-only.

"Official reorganization effective July 1": This is what shows up in the Department of Education records, for the start of that school year. This can come a few or many years after "First year for sharing." In most cases only the final name is noted, with the earlier districts in their respective "First year for sharing" line. Official reorganizations before 2000 may only include the final name without more details, unless a previous name wasn't part of the new district, because of the lack of knowledge about earlier sharing.

"First year for sharing": Beginning of whole-grade sharing - the year a town loses its high school - NOT sports-only modifications or the later official reorganization in the line above. Since 2000, schools often proceed by joining sports teams first, engaging in whole-grade sharing at the same time or within a few years, then having the full merger a few years after that. "A-B, C (D)" indicates that A and B were already a consolidated district, and are starting whole-grade sharing with C, and the new school is known as D. Sometimes this looks redundant, but it's included for completeness. Long-term whole-grade sharing agreements are rarely reshuffled. Aside from WCLT, discussed above, I can only think of one other: Grand left Ogden for Southeast Webster in 2000, and CAL and Dows parted ways in 2005. Then, Gilmore City-Bradgate and Twin Rivers of Bode, after decades as Twin River Valley, split up. Also, Allerton and Lineville-Clio were together from 1959-66, according to this history, and/but state records show an "ACL" school district until a name change (back?) to Lineville-Clio in 1987.

"Last year for district": Dissolutions and/or tiny districts that were absorbed into other districts with little or no change in the larger one. Districts that were acting only as de facto K-6 schools are so noted. In the second half of the 20th century, only two districts voluntarily dissolved instead of merged: Boone Valley in 1988 and Grand Valley in 1998. (Source: Max McElwain, The Only Dance in Iowa, p. 211) In the 21st century, voluntary dissolutions have generally been those of K-6 districts that were sending older students to multiple schools. There have been three forced dissolutions: Hedrick in 1991, Russell in 2008, and Farragut in 2016.

"Last year for high school": Districts that go K-6 or K-8 but do not engage in two-way sharing. Parentheses indicate where 7-12 or 9-12 will go. Otherwise, the last graduating class (e.g. Dows High School) would be the year before the "First year for sharing" line.

"Last year for building": Last school year classes were held. The town is where the building is, and the school in parentheses is the district whose building is involved or, in some cases, the building name of an urban district (included in "Also" at the end of each line).

"Torn down": Old buildings demolished as seen in aerial photos from the Iowa Geographic Map Server, 1990-1994-2002-2004 and later. These photos could be taken as late as September, but I'm sticking with the July-June pattern unless I know otherwise. "Original building only" means the two- or three-story 1910s-30s structure came down while addition(s) remained intact, "except gym" means only the gymnasium addition was left.

Links added where possible, but link rot happens. Once you start backtracking into the 20th century, it gets harder to find information beyond the official reorganizations, so e-mailed contributions/corrections of information would be appreciated.





While Ruthven-Ayrshire is recorded as a reorganization, the Ayrshire school closed a year earlier and just under half the land of the Ayrshire district actually moved there; most of the rest went to Emmetsburg instead.





Orange High School was demoted to an elementary when Waterloo Central opened in 1972-73. Even though Central only had 15 graduating classes, if you count it as distinct and not a direct replacement, it's still among the five most recent high schools to open in Iowa — and it hasn't been a high school for 30 years.







Iowa school district codes for tax and other purposes are based on this year's arrangements.
Hubbard-Radcliffe's official merger came the school year after winning the final six-on-six girls' basketball championship. P&P&S had begun playing football as South O'Brien in 1988.




During this school year, 24 legally recognized districts had an enrollment under 250, but only about half a dozen had their own high school. The rest were in whole-grade sharing with larger districts or each other.





Torn down in the 1990s (on 1990/94 photos, but not 2002): Argyle (original building only), Arispe, Aurora, Badger, Blencoe, Burt (original building only), Chapin, Collins (replacement built), Colwell, Conroy, Crystal Lake (original building only), Duncombe, Grafton (except gym, April 2001), Grand River, Hancock, Hartwick, Hedrick (original building only), Holly Springs (except gym), Kellerton (except gym), Kelley, Keswick, Ledyard, Lu Verne (original building only), McClelland, Meservey, Moravia (original building only), North English (original building only; replacement existed), Paton, Plymouth, St. Marys (except gym), Salix, Sloan (replacement built), Thor, Van Wert (except gym), Webb



Torn down between mid-2002 and mid-2004: Burnside (original, separate building), Decatur City, Green Mountain (replacement built), Keokuk (Keokuk Middle School/original HS), Meriden, Silver City, Sioux Rapids (original building only, replacement existed), Smithland. Also, original building in Hudson torn down, but all later additions remain in use as JH/elementary - see the bottom of my IA 58 South page.



During this school year, 32 legally recognized districts had an enrollment under 250. Of those, only eight were east of I-35, and of those eight, only three - Lineville-Clio, Moulton-Udell, and Russell - had their own high school.

Between 2004-05 and 2009-10, Waukee's enrollment growth was equivalent to absorbing these school districts: Springville, Valley of Elgin, Clay Central-Everly, Corning, and Riceville. (Certified enrollment, +/-5) Over the entire decade (2000-01 to 2009-10), Waukee added a total number of students nearly equal to the entire lineup of central Iowa's 2009-10 football Class A District 7. (3447 vs. 3467)

Between 2005-06 and 2010-11, Ankeny's enrollment growth was equivalent to absorbing these school districts: Albert City-Truesdale, West Bend-Mallard, Essex, Remsen-Union, and Charter Oak-Ute. (Certified enrollment, +/-5)



*Between 1980 and 2010, Calhoun and Pocahontas counties lost more than 3,800 people. Each.

*The separate districts of Corwith-Wesley and LuVerne set up a combined high school in Corwith and middle school in LuVerne in 1980-81, "before the term whole grade sharing was even coined." (Guy Ghan, 1991)

Page last updated 9/25/17

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