The Lakeland School Corporation will be going from five schools to three, closing down two elementary schoolsat the end of this year. The school board voted Monday 4-2 in favor of closing the schools.
There is currently one high school, one middle school, and three elementary schools in the district. With declining enrollment, 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 $1.28 million by the end of 2020. Most of that savings will come from cutting staff.
Under the plan, 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.
“My heart sank,” said parent Heidi Yoder after hearing the vote to downsize. “As much as I want to be united, it’s my daughter’s school. So it’s definitely going to be a change for her next year adjusting to a new school for a 4th grader.”
The board created a committee to explore options that wouldn’t close the school. One option was 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.
Many parents say district leadership is throwing in the towel, rather than pursuing other alternatives with more consideration and ferver. Superintendent Eva Merkel disagreed.
“I don’t call it throwing in the towel,” she sadi. “I call it trying to keep the corporation going. We want to support the community in someway. We’re not getting rid of the buildings. We’re not selling the buildings. We potentially want to make them community centers.”
She understands some parents may be upset enough to take their kids to another district.
“We hope that our programs are strong enough that parents do stay,” she said. “I’m all for parent choice. I never want a parent to keep a child at a school that they’re not happy with, but I’m hoping parents are happy enough with what we’re doing and with what we’re providing.”
Merkel expaliened that the benefits of downsizing go beyond saving money. Will all three schools centralized and right by each other, programs can be maintained and even enahnced. This will provide community services with new partnerships within the buildings.
Opponents feared large class sizes,overstuffed buildings, and having to say goodbye to schools they loved and considered important parts of their communities.
Merkel said the immediate next step is to name the leadership of the three schools for next year.