LARWILL — A parade of more than 30 citizens addressed the Whitko Community School Corporation’s school board in a two hour, 15-minute meeting Monday night, Feb. 19, to express concern related to the board’s recent realization that consolidation is unavoidable.
The Whitko Community School Corporation and members of the community are mostly in agreement on one thing — something has to be done in terms of re-structuring to combat environmental and economic factors that are putting the school district in jeopardy. Where some differ is how that retool will look.
The district has agreed that due to decline in school enrollment, the corporation must reconfigure the schools to house a pair of elementary schools and one junior-senior high school. Like many school districts, Whitko currently houses middle school-aged students, often grades six through eight, in a separate building. Nearby Triton School Corporation, located in Bourbon, uses a junior-senior high school format. At issue is where the corporation’s seventh through 12th graders will attend classes.
In a heated debate not unlike the firestorm that erupted a quarter century ago when Whitko decided to build a middle school in the midst of farmland near Larwill, opinions are divided along an east-west imaginary equator, pitting north against south. The school board decided last month to make the older students attend junior and senior high school at the current high school in South Whitley. Those Whitko patrons who live in the south maintain it makes more sense for the junior-senior high school to be located at the newer building and many called for the board to reconsider its earlier vote.
“In our meeting with the consultants, we discussed rural school districts that are sustainable because they are on a centralized one-campus district,” said Laura Cassidy, co-president of Pierceton Elementary School’s Parent-Teacher Organization. “Every piece of evidence gathered by the consultants, to the tune of $20,000, showed us that the Larwill location provides that.”
Like many of the speakers who pleaded with the board Monday night, Cassidy finished her allotted three minute speech to a standing ovation and thunderous applause.
Patrons argue that the Larwill campus has more room to grow based on the size of the real estate and in the wake of rapidly-declining enrollment, an argument was made that the current middle school’s proximity to US 30, a main thoroughfare linking Warsaw and Fort Wayne, would make this potential high school location more attractive to would-be Whitko families. Another point made about parents taking their children to other school systems involved the cost of living in the district.
“We have a much higher tax rate than Manchester, Columbia City or Warsaw,” said Tom Pletcher, who added that the school corporation’s need to add modular units at the current high school to accommodate incoming middle schooler’s was not a selling point for South Whitley versus Larwill. “For parents, that’s a turn off right there,” he said. “What tax payers think should not be blown off.”
Cassidy evoked images of the recent Florida school shooting in making her pro-Larwill plea.
“As I’ve watched the footage and interviews of the Parkland, Fla. shooting, I realize how unsafe our kids would be in those mobile classrooms,” she said. “As Warsaw’s school district found out, these mobile classrooms are a waste of tax payer’s money with no resale value. At the Larwill building, all our kids will be behind safer walls, made of brick.”
The school board was one member short at the Monday night meeting, with Georgia Tenney absent. Following the total of 33 speakers, the board continued by rubber stamping remaining business. It is unclear whether the panel will revisit its decision to move the top six grades to South Whitley.
According to Steve Clason, Whitko superintendent, the board’s decision to make the current high school the new junior-senior high school was based in large part on infrastructure. Clason said the current high school has adequate sporting areas and outside facilities as well as an auditorium available for performing arts events. He added that student lockers are sufficient, the Career Technical Education spaces are better developed and that there will be less busing for athletic events.