ANDERSON — From an economist's perspective, consolidating Indiana's smallest school districts makes perfect sense. Many districts face rising costs and declining enrollment. A merger could mean lower overhead and operating costs.
Several academic studies over the past decade have said as much. But the idea hasn't gained much traction.
The latest entry in the ongoing consolidation debate came recently from the Ball State University Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER).
The policy brief, called "School Corporation Size and the Cost of Education," argues that the merger of Indiana's smallest K-12 schools will be necessary to reduce overhead and management expenses.
Locally, the last area school districts to seriously consider consolidation were Daleville Community Schools and Cowan Community School Corporation, both in neighboring Delaware County.
Those districts studied the issue in 2008-2009, said Paul Garrison, Daleville's superintendent, but ultimately decided against a merger. Both have student populations under 1,000.
And legislation introduced several years ago to force consolidation of schools with student populations of less than 1,000 students "just fell flat on its face," said Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson.
"There may be places where it makes sense, but I think that's up to the communities to decide for themselves," Austin said.
But Michael Hicks, director of CBER, said a time is coming when school and community leaders may have no other alternative.
"Many of Indiana's school districts are facing dwindling enrollment at a time when costs of providing a quality education are increasing," said Hicks. He co-wrote the report with Dagney Faulk, the center's research director.
"At some point, we are going to have to look at ways to reduce the school districts' overhead while maintaining the ability to provide quality education in each community, a key to developing the state's economy," Hicks added.