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Prior to the consolidation of schools in the 1960's, each small community school had their own mascot that instilled a certain amount of community pride.  Communities may once again face the loss of local mascots as the state of Indiana encourages smaller school corporations to merge due to economies of scale.

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Indiana features long history of consolidations

Palladium-Item (Richmond, IN) - January 20, 2008

When the bipartisan state Commission on Local Government Reform set about the task of looking at consolidation 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 consolidation effort.

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 2,000 students.

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 Indiana University.

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 few.

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.

Section: Local
Page: 2A
This article reprinted with permission from the Palladium-Item.


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