The Lakeland School Corporation is in high economic risk of operating in the red, and one of their proposed solutions against that future is downsizing the number of buildings in the district. Ideas were proposed at a school board meeting Monday night in which more than 125 people attended.

There is currently one high school, one middle school, and three elementary schools in the district.

One of the proposals is for a three-school district. The district would close down both Lima-Brighton and Wolcott Mills elementary schools. What would remain is a primary elementary school for kindergarten through second grade, an intermediate elementary school for third through sixth grade, and a junior/senior high school for seventh through twelfth grade. School attendance numbers are projected to be 399, 563, and 883 students, respectively.

Lakeland leadership said they are expecting an operating loss of nearly $700,000 this year and $900,000 next year. The three-school proposal would save them $1.1 million by the end of 2020.

If something does not give quickly, the outlook is one Lakeland High School Assistant Principal Jason Schackow calls financially irresponsible to the community.

“We would start operating in the red which is never a good thing when you’re talking finances,” he said.

Schackow does not have a public opinion on the three, four or five school proposals. He is just facillitating the conversation. A committee was put together to form the proposals.

Proponents of the three-school proposal say it provides the fastest path to financial stability. They said it will provide a better educational experience and outcomes for LSC students and their parents by better aligning curriculums and increasing collaboration between schools. Also, classroom sizes will balance out. 

Lakeland High School will become the Junior/Senior high school. The intermediate elementary school will take over Lakeland Middle School, which is next door to the high school. Lima-Brighton and Wolcott Mills would collpase into Parkside Elementary School, which is one mile from the high school. No renovations to any of the buildings would be required.

At Monday’s meeting, there was also a four-school proposal in which all three elementary schools would remain, serving kindergarten through sixth grades. Lakeland Middle School would close and Lakeland High School would serve seventh through twelfth grades.

One parent, Johnny Raber, prefers staying with five schools out of fear that maximizing classroom capacities limits flexibility. He thinks upset parents will leave the district after losing the pride and comfort in their community elementary school.

“Some of those students are going to leave and go to the surrounding communities which are actively recruiting our students because they know about this adversity that is going on in our district at this point,” he said.

Kara Dunker has two kids at Parkside Elementary and likes the singular messaging three schools could bring to the district. 

“I think it would be very beneficial for our community,” she said. “I feel it would bring us all together because it’s one whole Lakeland community. I don’t feel that closing the schools completely eliminates those communities. It helps bring the whole community together.”

She also noted that the closing elementary schools are only 10 to 15 minutes away from the central schools. 

Those in support of staying at five schools plan to solve the immediate financial deficit by firing staff. In the long term, they’ll propose a property tax via referendum to pay for school costs.

“The board has a big decision to make,” Dunker concluded. “It’s going to be tough.”

The school board makes a final deciaion on the proposals March 25.