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Lakeland Schools weigh closing 2 schools

LAGRANGE, Ind. (WANE) - Lakeland School Corporation is considering closing two of its elementary schools amid declining enrollment across the LaGrange County district.

The Lakeland Schools board will consider a recommendation to close both Lima-Brighton Elementary and Wolcott Mills Elementary. In the plan, Parkside Elementary School would absorb a younger portion of those displaced students and become a Primary K-3 building. Lakeland Middle School would become an Intermediate Elementary 4-7 building, and Lakeland High School, then, would become an 8-12 building.

It's not clear from the press release when the proposed changes would begin.

The district estimates the overhaul, which would include the elimination of one central office administration position and cutting the building level administration from eight to six, would save it more than $1 million.

"It is time for Lakeland School Corporation to do what any responsible business or family would do," the district wrote in a press release. "We have to cut back to live within our means. Money coming in is less than money going out.

"We must resize to become a responsible and competitive county employer and to set that example for our students. Our energies must be focused on teaching our kids, not on maintaining what has become inefficient."

Enrollment at Lima-Brighton has fallen from 256 students during the 2016-2017 school year to 194 now - 40 percent capacity. At Wolcott Mills, the capacity sits at 44 percent.

District wide, enrollment has fallen from 2,174 to 1,843 over the last decade.

With schools more than half empty, the district said its cash reserves were being drained to maintain all five school buildings.

"We have gotten too small to efficiently work this way and, if changes are not made, we move closer to not being able to maintain the corporation at all," the release said.

The district said it was committed to showing "good stewardship" of taxpayers dollars by coming up with a cash-saving plan first, before turning to a referendum.

Whether the school board - and the community - will support the plan is to be determined.

The school district has scheduled a "listening tour" to present the plan to the community and take in feedback. A meeting will be held Thursday at 7 a.m. at the Corporation Office, before one at Feb. 12 at 5:30 p.m. at Lima-Brighton Elementary and one Feb. 14 at 8:30 a.m. at Parkside Elementary.

The school board is scheduled to meet again Feb. 18.

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