Merge could save schools money and protect education for students

Beth Rumsey
Staff Writer

Patrons of the Milan Community School Corporation learned in a special called meeting of the Milan School Board on February 18 that a cut of about $400,000 or more will be needed in order for the schools to continue to operate in the black. This same presentation was given earlier at the January board meeting as well as to the staff at all three schools, according to Interim Superintendent Steve Gookins.

Currently, the state provides funding for the schools rather than the local property taxes as in the past. Schools receive a per student stipend and if the current trend of decreasing enrollment continues, schools will receive less funding.

According to Gookins, Indiana operates on a two-year fiscal budget. The current budget started August of 2009 and will end in 2011. Not only will the cuts affect the 2009-2010 school year, but also the 2010-2011 school year with a projected cut of $178,500 in 2011.
The Indiana Constitution prohibits the state getting into debt, which has prompted the cuts in many areas besides the schools such as law enforcement and the DNR.

Gookins reminded the patrons attending that a school cannot operate with deficit finance for very long before it becomes state controlled.

Cuts have been suggested in areas such as expenditures, extracurricular staff as well as staff not directly connected to instruction such as custodians, instructional aides, and counselors.

Another way to cut costs, not just for Milan, but for the Jac-Cen-Del and South Ripley school corporations, would be to merge governments. Gookins noted that there could be a possible savings of a half million dollars without closing a building.

When merging schools’ governments, explained Gookins, there is only one superintendent, assistant, secretary, treasurer, nurse and transportation director for the schools. There would be savings in software, text books, and property and liability insurance as well, he noted.

Not to be confused with consolidation, those schools that merge governments will not lose their identity. Neither will it affect student participation in athletics, according to Gookins, as a student cannot participate in an athletic program in a different school as per IHSAA regulations.

Merging would increase academic opportunities for students, Gookins noted. For example, a student would be able to take a course not offered in the school he or she attends. “Merging opens the door for flexibility for the students,” said Gookins.

The small town feeling for a school is also important, Gookins noted. He said merging would retain that feeling, but also better prepare a student to pursue their dreams. Courses that normally would only have the interest of a few students at each school could be offered at one location with an instructor qualified to teach it.

Examples of schools with merged governments can be found across the state, according to Gookins. For example, schools in Bartholomew, Blackford, Jay and Switzerland counties operate with a one administration policy.

Representatives from school boards and superintendents have met on an informal basis in round-robin type discussions to address the budget cuts. These are only preliminary discussions, according to Gookins, with no commitments being made.
“It’s an example of trying to explore every avenue possible,” said Gookins.

Gookins reminded those attending that this was his opinion based on data from his research to better provide the students of Milan School Corporation the best education possible.

“We are literally looking at everything,” said Gookins. “We are turning every stone over to run this school more efficiently.”

Parents are encouraged to fill out a citizen’s checklist that will better communicate the needs for the schools, according to Gookins. A form can be picked up at the administration office.

There was a large turn out at the special called public meeting of the Milan School Corporation Board of Trustees to discuss options on how to deal with losing more than $400,000 in funding for the schools. Interim Superintendent Steve Gookins, standing, spoke at the meeting, introducing the idea of merging.