Wawasee Engagement Committee Armed With Information Before Making Suggestions To School Board
By Deb Patterson
WAWASEE — A group of 46 people from Milford, North Webster and Syracuse met five times from Feb. 27 through March 25 to learn about Wawasee Community School Corporation, its finances, curriculum, facilities and demographics. The final task was to put aside emotions and focus on what was best for the students and make suggestions to the school board. An executive summary will be presented at the April 18 school board meeting.
This group was called the Community Engagement Committee.
Each meeting, held at a different school building, also consisted of a facility tour by administrators of that school.
The group consisted of parents, elected officials, clergy, business leaders and teachers. Members of the group appeared to take their task seriously as attendance ranged between 90% to 95%.
Dr. Steve Troyer, superintendent, stated the group was tasked with two objectives: take a look at educational programming and how Milford is different than the other schools and help identify options for the board to consider in making decisions relating to facilities. “It is an opportunity to invest into the facilities and input priorities,” Troyer stated.
The five meetings were facilitated by Dr. James M. Halik, Compass-Keynote Consulting LLC. The former superintendent, noted the group was to help the school board be proactive, be a think tank and provide transparency. He stated the purpose of the group was to prepare options for the board based on the process of tours of the facilities and study data.
“Your focus is to use the data. Your primary reason, we are here for the kids, what is the best interest for the majority of kids – safety, curriculum, appearance, facility use,” stressed Halik.
The role of the board and its responsibility were reviewed — conduct public business meetings, represent the community, over all perspective and provide adequate facilities.
The presentation on the corporation’s finances, including bond and debt capacity, was presented by Dr. Brandon Penrod, acting business manager and financial consultant. The focus was an overview of factors impacting school finances, historical data for the corporation, and trends, forecasts and financial impacts. It was noted the corporation tax rate is $0.5399 per a $100 assessed valuation, one of the lowest in the state.
The four major components noted were finance, operations, curriculum/instruction and promotion/relations. Each of those areas were detailed. Tax dollars are only received for the operation and debt funds. State funds are used for the other funds.
Overviews explaining revenue from state funding and property taxes were provided. Information was also made available on the assessed value and tax rates for schools throughout the county.
Information was also provided showing a decrease in the corporation’s debt service funds as previous debt service is being paid down. In essence the corporation has approximately $80 million available over the years without raising tax rates.
Enrollment figures from 2013 to current were provided by grade levels. These figures showed a decrease in students in seven of the 10 years. Only 2014-15 and 2015-16 showed any increase with the highest in 2014-15 at 2.2%. There was only a 0.3% increase the following year.
Enrollment for other schools in the county was also provided, showing all schools were seeing a decrease in students.
Educational program was presented by Assistant Superintendent Shelly Wilfong. Programs range from infant/toddler to 12th grade. Middle school information was provided showing the current inequity of learning experiences between Milford and Wawasee. Offering similar programs and cross-building collaboration is becoming difficult due to differences in Encore classes, a difference in schedules and class times and student numbers. Enrollment, number of teachers and the student/teacher ratio along with advanced programming challenges at Milford Middle Schoolwere presented.
Wilfong noted the teachers at Milford Middle School are teaching two to three subjects and it is difficult to find teachers willing to teach that many subjects. If a teacher has a job choice of teaching one subject throughout the day compared to two to three subjects, they will take the one subject choice.
Details on alternative programs, graduation pathways and career and technical education programs were also presented.
Another eye-opening presentation was the facility study, provided independently by Barton Coe Vilamaa, architects and engineers. Staff toured each of the facilities, providing floor plans, dates building plans were created, design, building capacity, additions, room usage and recommended improvements.
Syracuse and North Webster are the corporation’s two newest schools. Syracuse, with a capacity of 558, is near its limit. North Webster, however, has only reached just over half of its capacity of 641. Milford School has a capacity of 660 and as of 2020-21 enrollment was 497. Wawasee Middle School, with a capacity of 944, is 518 and Wawasee High School, with a capacity of 1,306, is 949.
The study provided areas of improvements to each school, including external improvements such as extending drop-off and pick-up areas, more parking, fencing, sidewalks and improved entrances.
Milford School is the oldest school in the corporation. A layout of the school showed the original building was built in 1954 with additions in 1960, 1977, 1981 and 2001. Numerous challenges in the elementary and middle school areas were noted regarding classrooms, office, specialty areas, corridors, entrances and areas underutilized.
The high school is the second oldest building in the corporation. Like Milford it has had numerous additions and renovations. The high school was originally designed in 1967. Additions were made in 1971, 1977, 1991, 2010 ad 2011. Among the challenges for this building was the office, C-wing classrooms, storage, performing arts, lecture room and CTE area. Other challenges included the athletics area. It was noted the natatorium, lecture room, LRC Rooms/Surge and some classroom spaces are underutilized.
Demographics for the corporation were provided by McKibben Demographic Research LLC, Rock Hill, S.C. Jerome McKibben’s study provided corporation forecast assumptions, population based on the 2020 census and enrollment projection for each school through 2032-33.
The demographics showed the largest population age groups were between 55-69, with those between the ages of 10-19 the second highest. The smallest groups were those between birth to 4 and 70 tand up. The study showed people are remaining in their homes longer instead of downsizing. These are the homes, it was stated, younger families would normally move into.
Committee members were also given a view of where students live throughout the district and per school, created by Wilfong.