News From Terre Haute, Indiana

November 15, 2012

Parke school districts begin re-organizing

Sue Loughlin
The Tribune-Star

PARKE COUNTY — Voters in Rockville and Turkey Run school districts have agreed to re-organize into one, and effective Jan. 1, the two districts will combine to form the North Central Parke Community School Corp.

In the Nov. 6 referendum, nearly 79 percent of Rockville’s 2,440 voters favored the re-organization, while nearly 59 percent of Turkey Run’s 1,436 voters supported the new, single district.

In total, the vote was 2,764 in favor and 1,112 opposed. Voters in each district had to approve it by majority vote.

“The community was ready for the school districts to get together and hopefully provide better services to students,” said Tom Rohr, Turkey Run superintendent. He also is serving as consulting superintendent to Rockville Community Schools, which hasn’t had its own superintendent for several months.

No schools will close or merge, and schools would keep the same names, mascots and school colors. The new district, with two junior-senior high schools and two elementary schools, will have about 1,300 students.

The major driving factors for the consolidation have been enrollment declines and reduced state funding. Under the current state funding formula, it’s become difficult for small school districts to keep funding levels high enough to support educational programs for students, officials have said.

Now that voters have approved the new district, “There’s a tremendous amount of work to do to put the two districts together,” Rohr said.

One of the first orders of business is a budget for the new district. Both Turkey Run and Rockville boards must approve it, and at 7 p.m. Nov. 19, they will conduct a public hearing on the 2013 budget during a special joint meeting of the two boards.

The two boards will meet again Dec. 3 to adopt the budget.

“Both school corporation boards have worked well together. The whole process has been a very smooth one,” Rohr said.

A new, seven-member North Central Parke board has already been appointed, with three members from each district (Rockville and Turkey Run) and a seventh appointed by the Parke Circuit Court judge.

The new school board members are Jim Wrightsman, Gina Sunderman, Scott Ramsay, Andy Hayes, Joe Seward, Rusty Akers and Greg Harvey, who is the at- large member. The board members will meet in January and elect officers.

They will appoint a superintendent, and Rohr anticipates he will be asked to serve in that capacity.

The only major difference people will see in January is one central governing unit with one seven-member board, one superintendent and one administrative business office, Rohr said.

He doesn’t anticipate layoffs. “It doesn’t look like it. We’ll be able to basically move people around to accomplish everything that needs to be done,” he said. “We’ve been planning this for a long time” and cautious about hiring new employees.

The November referendum was the culmination of a lengthy process, and both boards had to approve the unified district.

By having one district, “We can use staff in a better way,” Rohr said. For example, instead of each district having a half-time teacher for a subject, the unified district can have one full-time teacher who travels back and forth.

Small, upper-level classes offered at each of the high schools can now be combined, increasing efficiency. At the high school level, some class sizes have been so small it’s been difficult to offer the classes students need, Rohr has said in the past.

“Our primary goal is what’s best for students,” he said.

The single, re-organized district also will bring savings. There will be one superintendent instead of two. Also, “There will be a lot of efficiencies by putting everything together,” Rohr said.

While the first North Central Parke School board is appointed, in two years, there will be school board elections.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.