GRAFTON, N.D. -- The Pembina County and Walsh County reorganization committees, by unanimous votes, on Monday approved their plans to reorganize the St. Thomas School District and Grafton School District.

The votes came during a public hearing Monday night in Grafton. The issue next goes to the state Department of Public Instruction and could set up a final public vote later in the year.

The 4-0 Pembina County committee vote and 3-0 Walsh County Committee vote to reorganize St. Thomas School District No. 43 and Grafton School District No. 3 into Grafton School District No. 20 were preceded by comments from the public. About a half-dozen of the approximately 70 people in attendance at the Feb. 10 meeting in the Walsh County Courthouse gave several minutes of testimony. Comments for and against the reorganization were evenly divided.

“Do I want the school to close? Absolutely not, but there comes a time when the numbers just don’t jibe,” said Jacklyn McMartin, St. Thomas School Board vice president.

There are 39 students enrolled in K-12 in St. Thomas. The school shares faculty with Grafton and cooperates in sports.

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Duane Littlejohn, an outspoken opponent of the reorganization, reiterated his concerns, including busing children from St. Thomas 30 miles round-trip to Grafton, fewer opportunities for St.Thomas students to participate in sports, and the negative effect the loss of the school building and property would have on the community.

The St. Thomas School Board and the city are working on a plan for sale and transfer of ownership and property to the city. If the Grafton and St. Thomas districts are reorganized and a plan for the building and property is not agreed upon by the time the reorganization goes into effect -- and if the ownership has not been transferred to the city of St. Thomas -- the Grafton School District will assume ownership of the St. Thomas school.

If the building and property aren’t sold within a year after the reorganization goes into effect, the building will be demolished, and the property will be cleaned and leveled. The Grafton School District then would sell the property.

The Pembina and Walsh County school reorganization committees will submit their plans and Monday night’s testimony to the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction. The North Dakota DPI will vote on the reorganization plan; if it is approved, the St. Thomas and Grafton residents of the school districts will vote on the issue this summer.