Lakeland School Corporation looking to restructure

Lakeland School Corporation has been headed toward the red, financially, and they need to do something about it this year.

Posted: Feb 11, 2019 3:20 PM
Updated: Feb 12, 2019 8:56 AM

LAGRANGE, Ind. (FOX 55) - Lakeland Schools Corporation in LaGrange County is headed towards some financial trouble. The school could risk losing nearly a million dollars by the end of 2020 if something isn't done.

There's talk of closing two of the schools, but when Craig Hess, who's mother teaches at one of the schools, and has connections with others who are in the district, was asked how important the two schools were, he said, "They’re absolutely vital. They are the communities."

Those two schools are Wolcott Mills and Lima-Brighton Elementary.

According to Superintendent Dr. Eva Merkel, the district has seen a decline in population and the two schools mentioned above are now operating below 50%.

Dr. Merkel said the decline "...started with the recession {of 2008}. Families started moving out at that time and never came back, and it’s been a slow decrease and we’ve kind of hit that tipping point."

The proposal to close Wolcott Mills and Lima-Brighton was put forth by Dr. Merkel to the school board.

However, Hess, who's mother teaches at Wolcott Mills, says something isn’t right about the process.

Hess said "enrollment has been decreasing for 11 years. So now, 11 years later, we need to make the decision to close the schools and we need to vote on it in two weeks. Something doesn’t add up."

He and other community members have concerns of what the closures might do to the two communities so closely tied to the schools.

Reiterating from before he said "they’re absolutely vital, they are the communities. I would say that you lose those schools, you may as well close up shop all over."

But Dr. Merkel says something has to be done, and if not, "what will happen if we don’t do anything is we’ll exponentially lose close to one million dollars a year just because we’re shrinking so much."

According to Hess, the first meeting earlier this year provided little to help the public understand their options.

"We’re still yet to see any numbers. Nothing has been mentioned of this yet. Maybe if they would have come prepared,maybe the community would be behind something like that," Hess said.

One idea was a referendum, but Dr. Merkel says a survey done two years ago showed less than half of those who responded were in favor, but she admits they may go for it now.

"Dr. Merkel said "these are not easy decisions to make and it’s my job to recommend to the board what I think is important to keep the corporation 1) financially stable and 2) providing our students with the best education possible."

There are two more chances for community input this week. Contact Lakeland School District office for more details. The fate of the two schools will be decided at the next meeting, scheduled for February 18th, 2019.

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