CLARK COUNTY — The West Clark Community Schools board’s vote Thursday to divorce Silver Creek schools from the district is just the beginning of what could be a long, drawn-out process still with many hurdles ahead.
But with a unanimous board vote and what appears to be support in all communities, the path ahead may be made less thorny.
“It’s just time,” said Angie Messer, a parent of Silver Creek students and a teacher at the primary school. “It’s unfortunate, but it’s time. It’s time for us to move forward. With all of the history that’s gone on between these schools, it’s just something we can’t overcome.”
School board secretary Doug Coffman, who motioned for the secession Thursday, said he had already begun research into the move before the referendum special election Tuesday, eves secession was the only viable option following the defeat of West Clark’s $95 million referendum.
Julie Slavens, staff attorney at the Indiana School Boards Association, knows of no other school corporation in the state that has tried what West Clark is about to do.
West Clark must first develop two reorganization plans — one for Silver Creek and one for Henryville/Borden — that will detail district boundaries and the dividing of assets and debt, among other details (much like a marriage divorce).
Then, the Indiana State Board of Education, of which state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick is a member, must approve the reorganization plans.
Finally, the plans must be approved by either a 55 percent margin through petition or through a public question at the ballot box. Voters wouldn’t vote on both districts — just the ones where they live, Slavens said.
“It’s hard to say how long this is going to take because it’s going to be getting into the details of splitting up the two corporations, where is the dividing line, how are debt and assets going to be managed,” she said.
Coffman said he had spoken individually with other board members about the possibility of secession and felt they needed to “show action” fast to remedy some of the problems the failed referendum sought to fix.
“I just felt like the timing was right,” he said. “Emotions were high.”
Once school board members have a grasp on the secession process, Coffman said they will release a step-by-step guide so parents, teachers and administrators know what to expect. He is still unsure of some of the details himself.
“There wasn’t any sense of digging deep if we had a ‘no’ vote.” he said.
Buddy Coats, a parent of children who attend school in Henryville, believes secession is a good way to solve disagreements between Silver Creek and Henryville/Borden parents.
Not a single precinct outside Sellersburg voted in favor of the referendum. Within Sellersburg precincts, 235 more people voted ‘yes’ than ‘no.’ With Silver Creek its own taxing entity, it could make the investments that many see necessary, while Henryville and Borden taxpayers won’t have to foot the bill, Coats said.
“There was just disagreements on the amount of money being spent, how much was necessary,” he said.
Sara Spicer, a Silver Creek graduate with children in Henryville schools, said she is looking ahead to a new chapter for the West Clark schools.
“I’ve spoken with people from all three communities since the vote went down last night,” she said. “Many feel empowered and optimistic, but there are others who feel vulnerable and unsure.”
Spicer added she believes it’s important school board members seek “unbiased guidance from outside sources” during the transition process.
Messer, the Silver Creek parent, believes her priorities differed from parents at Borden or Henryville schools. While she supported sports and arts facilities, many outside Silver Creek didn’t believe they were necessary.
“Of course, we’re all aware that there is an issue of taxes and what’s going to happen and how is the debt going to be divided up between the schools ... I believe those are all risks that we’re willing to take to better the future of our kids,” she said.