The Herald Bulletin

April 11, 2014

Editorial: District consolidation could benefit local schools

The Herald Bulletin

---- — Whenever school consolidation is broached, many folks immediately bristle. That’s a natural reaction. In many communities, the schools are the meeting places, the centers of community pride and common ground.

But consolidation doesn’t necessarily mean that local schools have to sacrifice their identities to be swallowed by a new regional school corporation.

The Frankton-Lapel school district consolidation, which took place in 1972, demonstrates how the process can work for better economic efficiency and better educational offerings while communities retain their school affiliation.

Frankton High School stills exists. The Eagles still wear red and white, and the folks in Frankton still hold allegiance to their school. Same thing with Lapel High School, which has an impressive, shiny new facility, as well as a sparkling academic reputation.

So, the emotional reaction against consolidation, while understandable, can be somewhat misguided.

A recent article in The Herald Bulletin (search for “school consolidation”) revisited the possibility of consolidation for small local districts. In particular, the article dealt with a policy brief released by Ball State University’s Center for Business and Economic Research.

The brief concluded that mergers of the state’s smallest school districts would be economically necessary to reduce overhead and management expenses.

“Many of Indiana’s school districts are facing dwindling enrollment at a time when costs of providing a quality education are increasing,” CBER Director and brief co-author Michael Hicks explained.

“As 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.”

Locally, the Daleville and Cowan school districts informally discussed the possibility of consolidation a few years ago. The districts, both in Delaware County, are among the smallest in the state.

The discussion, however, withered under objections from citizens concerned about the loss of local autonomy and school-community identity.

Local Indiana school districts and the state Legislature should re-examine consolidation soon. The potential for saving money while increasing academic and extracurricular programming for students is worth exploring.

School boards and legislators must avoid a common mistake that occurs when the topic of consolidation surfaces — superintendents, the group that stands to lose jobs, are turned to as experts. But they are certainly not disinterested.

Indiana should follow Michigan’s lead in considering a model that Florida, Virginia and Maryland have. School districts, for the most part, are countywide, with just one central office.

In Madison County, for example, such countywide district consolidation would reduce the number of districts from five to one, thereby reducing the number of high-paid superintendents from five to one. And it would enable — through the economics of scale — reduced costs for transportation, food and other resources.

In summary Indiana should follow Michigan's lead in considering a model that Florida, Virginia and Maryland have. School districts, for the most part, are countywide, with just one central office.