School Consolidations: Who’s Next?

MUNCIE, IN – As the 2013 saga involving Muncie Community Schools is winding down, except for the Tea Parties always festive tradition of “beating the dead horse”, we are starting to get some clues about who might be next in Delaware County school consolidations.

As Governor Mike Pence is learning, before you promise businesses that you’ll cut their taxes, you might want to have an economic impact study done first to support your case. Pence publicly announced phasing out the business property taxes to the tune of $1 billion, but received pushback from legislators. Journalists kept pressing Pence for his plan, but he said he wouldn’t discuss it publicly – maybe because he doesn’t have one.

Mayor Goodnight of Kokomo asked Pence during a meeting of Indiana mayors, “Let us know which credible economist in Indiana supports this plan?” Mayor Goodnight says he is still waiting.

Cutting $1 billion in revenue from local municipalities and schools who are already struggling is not a good idea and we’re sure no economist will step forth to bail out Mike Pence.

However, Governor Pence might get support for recommending further school consolidations.

Two Ball State economists recently completed a white paper titled, “School Corporation Size and the Cost of Education”. In the white paper, from Ball State’s Center for Business and Educational Research (CBER), they argue, “The long-term viability of Indiana’s smallest K-12 school corporations depends on mergers and consolidation as a tool 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,” said Michael Hicks, CBER director, who co-authored the paper with Dagney Faulk, CBER’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.

If you remember back in 2007, then Governor Mitch Daniels commissioned a study dubbed the Kernan-Shepard report. In that report, they recommended state government be consolidated to create more efficiencies. They suggested combining city and county services into one entity to be governed by a county executive. They also recommended that school districts reorganize to “achieve a minimum student population of 2,000” to establish districts that are large enough to provide high-caliber education at a lower cost and enhance fiscal accountability.

Back in 2010, a bipartisan government reorganization committee was created in Delaware County to combine city and county governments, and while they put forth a detailed plan, the referendum was voted down by Muncie and Delaware County voters.

What’s interesting is Hicks indicates that CBER did a report a 2010 which pegged the enrollment number at 2,000. Apparently, there is a consensus with this magic number.

The authors even recommend the Indiana General Assembly review recommendations offered by earlier research conducted by Ball State and Indiana University’s Center for Evaluation and Education Policy.

Now Governor Pence has economists supporting potential recommendations to the legislature. The question is will he act, and did he commission the white paper in the first place. Based on revenues collected over the past several months, Indiana is collecting much less than anticipated, so the state’s budget will get plenty of attention in the coming months.

Under the recommendations of the authors, we pulled enrollment over local county schools to see if any met their criteria. Here are the most current figures:

  • Delta – 2,591
  • Wes-Del – 825
  • Wapahani – 1,103
  • Cowan – 781
  • Yorktown – 2,310
  • Daleville – 825

As you can see, there are four school districts falling under the 2,000 enrollment target for a school corporation. Will Wes-Del, Cowan, and Daleville begin the consolidation process on their own, or will it take legislative action from the state?

Based on the numbers presented, where do you think county school corporations should take action and what do you think the perfect mix would be in Delaware County?

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Todd Smekens

Journalist, consultant, publisher, and servant-leader with a passion for truth-seeking. Enjoy motorcycling, meditation, and spending quality time with my daughter and rescue hound. Spiritually-centered first and foremost. Lived in multiple states within the USA and frequent traveler to the mountains.

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