Franklin Co. Schools Taking Look At Middle School Consolidation
By Mike Perleberg
(Franklin County, Ind.) – Consolidation of 7th and 8th grade students in Franklin County Community Schools could help the school district deal with declines in enrollment.
But some parents are apprehensions about the idea.
Superintendent Dr. Debbie Howell says the district is investigating the possibility of taking middle school students at Mount Carmel and Laurel elementary-middle schools and relocating them to Brookville Middle School. The change could happen as soon as the 2017-2018 school year.
Although they have hinted at informal discussions taking place for weeks, the FCCSC Board of Trustees has not yet made any decisions.
Rumors of the consolidation caused some parents to take their concerns to the school board on May 9. According to the Franklin County Observer newsletter, one parent, Cindy Wurzelbacher, spoke on behalf of parents who were worried about consolidation leading to the loss of connection to the community, larger class sizes, long bus rides, participation in extra-curricular activities and more. Parents were also “unsettled and frustrated by a lack of information,” Wurzelbacher said.
Howell shared a statement with Eagle Country 99.3 Wednesday. She said the decline in enrollment has created an inequality in the opportunities provided to 7th and 8th graders in the district’s three middle schools.
“As superintendent, it is my responsibility to consider options to alleviate this inequity. As I look for solutions, many factors such as class size, student transportation, continued participation in extra-curricular activities, efficient use of resources, and financial impact will be evaluated. Once I have gathered data, I will be meeting with parents, to share information, gather ideas, and to listen to concerns,” Howell said.
Howell did volunteer some data with Eagle Country 99.3 Wednesday. She said 7th and 8th grade enrollment at Laurel School has fallen by 33 percent in the last five years, while Mt. Carmel School has seen its middle school enrollment fall 27 percent in the same time period.
Taking an even longer look back, Lauren School opened in 1977. One-hundred fifty 7th and 8th graders were enrolled there in the first year. Since then, enrollment at Laurel is down 46 percent, according to Howell. The superintendent said she was still digging through historical data to find that information for Mt. Carmel.
District-wide, school enrollment has fallen 13 percent from 3,117 students in 2006 to 2,699 in 2015. Because Indiana’s school funding formula is so dependent on enrollment, schools in such situations must eventually look at ways to cut costs.
Franklin County Community Schools have not been the first southeast Indiana school district to face various challenges that come with lower enrollment trends. Neighboring Sunman-Dearborn Community Schools moved in 2014 to close the old North Dearborn Elementary School building and move those K-5 students to the former North Dearborn Intermediate School while 6th graders were moved to Sunman-Dearborn Middle School.
South Dearborn Community Schools last year visited the possibility of closing one of its three outlying elementary schools, but those plans are currently not in consideration.