Indiana features long history of
Palladium-Item (Richmond, IN)
- January 20, 2008
When the bipartisan state
Commission on Local Government Reform
set about the task of looking at
of schools last year as part of its overall reorganization
drive, its task already had been rendered a little easier by
major statewide school consolidation
initiatives starting as long as 150 years ago.
But not that much easier.
School consolidations , which proponents say
are designed to achieve efficiencies and reduce costs, have
typically parochial loyalties and spawned political struggle
across the state, according to a review of stories and
literature from the Palladium-Item's files.
And that much does not seem likely to change with the current
The Commission on Local Government Reform, co-chaired by Indiana
Supreme Court Justice Randall T. Shepard and former Gov. Joe
Kernan, recommends reducing the number of school districts in
Indiana from the current 293 to about 180. The reform effort
would achieve this by setting minimum district enrollments at
But if progress is measured in consolidated districts alone,
Indiana has already made substantial strides.
Consider: There were more than 9,000 school districts across
Indiana, often compromised of 20 to 30 families, when a major
reorganization was undertaken in 1852, according to research by
At the time those multitudes of school districts were abolished,
school administration was being steered toward townships.
By the late 1940s, the Indiana School Study Commission was
recommending local governments switch from township systems to
the county, exclusive of cities, and that school districts have
a minimum of 1,000 students. George C. Bond, then a township
trustee in Allen County, sent letters to newspapers across the
state, including the Palladium-item, referring to the
consolidation effort as part of a "continuous series of
socialistic reforms." The Cold War was in its infancy.
With passage of the School Corporation Reorganization Act of
1959, some 10 years later, the state mandated local school
reorganization study committees in each county with the purpose
-- more successful in some counties than others -- of gaining
added consolidation compliance. By 1968, the
number of school districts statewide had been reduced
additionally from 939 to 382.
Wayne County consolidation efforts during the
1960s saw a reduction of school districts along the lines of
townships to today's four county districts outside of the
Richmond city schools. Gone were many of the high schools and
the athletic teams with strong local identification: the Boston
Terriers, Economy Cardinals, Fountain City Little Giants, Milton
Sharpshooters, Webster Pirates and Whitewater Bears, to name a
Still, the results of this seemingly sweeping
consolidation were mixed and uneven, as evidenced by
Indiana's current hodge-podge of school districts ranging in
size from more than 37,000 student in the Indianapolis Public
Schools to 156 students in the Dewey Township Schools of LaPorte
County. Where Richmond and Wayne County have consolidated to
five districts, Evansville and Vanderburgh County -- with about
four times the enrollment numbers -- operate under a single,
unified school district.
It is those disparities -- smaller school districts, though not
necessarily smaller schools -- that today's reform efforts are
intended to remedy, proponents say.