LAGRANGE — Lakeland School Corp.'s steadily declining student population and changes to school funding mean major changes are in the offing, including the recommendation to close two elementary schools.
In a press release issued by the school board Monday, board members said, “It is time for Lakeland School Corporation to do what any responsible business or family would do. We have to cut back to live within our means. Money coming in is less than money going out. We must resize to become a responsible and competitive county employer and to set that example for our students. Our energies must be focused on teaching our kids, not on maintaining what has become inefficient.”
The corporation is located in LaGrange County.
According to corporation officials, the proposal is to:
• Close both Lima-Brighton Elementary and Wolcott Mills Elementary. The corporation would continue to own and maintain these buildings.
• Reduce the central office administration by one position and reduce the building level administration from eight positions to six.
• Make the Parkside Elementary School building a primary K-3 with two administrators. The focus of this school will be to introduce students to school and nurture their reading at grade level before leaving primary school.
• Lakeland Middle School will become an Intermediate Elementary housing grades 4-7 with two administrators. This school will focus on strengthening student skills and preparing them for the transition to secondary.
• Lakeland High School will become an 8-12 building with two administrators, supporting all students on their path toward graduation. All current academic and career-focused courses and programs will remain in place.
Corporation officials said that no cuts are proposed to student programs and support. Special education, behavioral intervention and technology support, along with counseling support will remain the same. Co-curricular programs, including fine arts and athletics will not be cut.
“We will continue to schedule for class sizes that are appropriate for grade levels — smaller at the elementary level (20 – 25) and slightly larger as students get older,” Lakeland officials said. “We will route our buses to keep student ride times as short as possible.”
The initial cost savings from this proposal are expected to amount to more than $1 million.
In the statement, corporation officials said, "We have been monitoring enrollment very closely for the past three years. At that time, building capacities in two buildings were trending to drop below 50 percent. This snapshot, which can fluctuate daily as students move into and out of our district, has been the trend for the past three years.
"Despite analyzing every position that opens and making cost savings everywhere we can, our cash reserves are being drained as we try to maintain five buildings for a smaller student body. We have gotten too small to efficiently work this way and, if changes are not made, we move closer to not being able to maintain the corporation at all. Before we turn to our taxpayers, we must show good stewardship with monies we receive from the state, the federal government and from our local taxpayers. We must show our taxpayers that we have made all cost savings changes possible before we ask them for more tax dollars through a referendum. Because of the current state of public school funding, that time will come.
"Our responsibility is to our students first and foremost. Supporting our staff and providing well-kept facilities comes next. And, finally, we owe the most responsible and efficient management of our finances to our public. To best serve our students we must utilize our resources in a way that maximizes their learning with the best staff possible. Continuing in deficit financing and allowing that deficit to grow is not the best way to serve all our students. Decisions that are right but difficult must be made."