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Last Graduates-Newcastle

Kylie White (from left), Jeremy Attema and Marti Carlson are three of the last five seniors to graduate from Newcastle High School. The school district is expected to consolidate with Hartington.

NEWCASTLE — It's a year of "lasts" for Newcastle High School in northeast Nebraska.

The last prom, the last set of finals, the last high school graduation exercise in the village of 325 people.

Newcastle officials have been struggling with declining enrollment since deciding two years ago to share some sports and other extracurricular activities with nearby Ponca.

Consolidation talks began in fall, and the school board eventually decided to merge the Newcastle district with the Hartington district. The merger is expected to be approved Tuesday during a meeting of the State Committee for the Reorganization of School Districts in Lincoln.

The plan for next year has students from fifth grade through high school attending school in Hartington, 28 miles away. Hartington administrators have said students from pre-kindergarten through fourth grade will remain at Newcastle for at least another year. Beyond that, it's uncertain.

Some residents wondered why Newcastle didn't merge with its sports partner, Ponca, which sits just 10 miles away.

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Joey Lefdal, Newcastle superintendent and high school principal, said that after the sports and extracurricular agreement merged the teams and activities, many Newcastle parents began sending their kids to Ponca schools. That seemed to cause bad feelings with parents who kept theirs in Newcastle, he said.

Land assessed for the Newcastle district will be transferred to the Hartington district, which has a lower tax rate. That could mean tax savings for Newcastle landowners, Lefdal said.

The five students in Newcastle's Class of 2014 will be the last to sit on the gymnasium stage, listening to speeches and waiting to hear their names called.

"This whole year has been bittersweet," said senior Marti Carlson. "It's your senior year, so it's been fun, but then knowing we'll be the last ones. ... We have our moments. I try not to sit and dwell on it."

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