Wayne County's state senator has written a bill making it easier for school districts to merge their administrations to cut costs, but after talking with some local superintendents, it doesn't appear any area districts are eager to take up the offer if it gets approved, even if a one-time grant of $500 per student is included as an incentive.
State Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Centerville, one of the authors of Senate Bill 248, said he hesitates to use the word "consolidation" when talking about his proposal.
“I didn't know the word consolidation was almost a cuss word,” he said. "And so I ran up against a lot of opposition as well as some heated discussion.
"I don't have a desire for school districts to consolidate, but should they come to a need, whether it's economically or because of lost revenue because of students not being there, they just have some additional guidelines that make it easier for them to address this because it's a huge issue, and rightfully so."
Raatz wants Hoosiers to be clear that schools could keep their names and traditional mascots after any merger through his bill, so Lions could remain Lions and Tigers could remain Tigers forever. The bill doesn't require any closing of school buildings if districts consolidate their administrative functions.
"We understand it's an emotional issue, and we're trying to give all the latitude we can," Raatz said. "If someone uses it, great. If they don't, that's perfectly fine, too."
The bill is intended to clear up how districts with debt can consolidate.
"This bill actually would allow school districts to simply consolidate their administrative functions and possibly eliminate some salaries in the middle of that and still maintain autonomy," Raatz said. "It gives them a lot of latitude to make decisions at the local level that are in the best interest of the people, the best interest economically."
Raatz said if a school district ends up considering a consolidation, or a large group of taxpayers within a school district decides to urge the school board to consider the possibility, they have options.
"All that stuff is existing code with the exception of dealing with debt," Raatz said. "I thought it was a brilliant move and I wanted to carry it out, and I've been fortunate enough to get it through."
Raatz's bill allows two or more school corporations in the same or adjoining counties to consolidate. Debts or obligations paid by a debt service levy incurred by a school corporation before the new consolidated corporation is created may be levied only on the taxpayers of the district that initially incurred the debt or obligation before a merger.
Raatz said he has talked with some superintendents about the bill. He said some who have been burned in the past while trying to consolidate don't like the proposal. Others have said they aren't affected by the plan.
During this legislative session, lawmakers have proposed a one-time, $500-per-pupil incentive related to Raatz's bill if schools do consolidate.