Well, Back When I Was In School . . .

by Curt Kovener

The opinion piece below this column was penned by a well-respected Ball State University economist. He proposes that to keep small schools in their community in Indiana, communities need to merge school corporations, boards and administration.

So let’s use that as a beginning point for a deliberative community discussion.

For decades, since the last school consolidation in the 1960’s, Crothersville and Medora…not just the two smallest schools in the county but the entire state…have been on someone’s list to merge, consolidate or close.

The conventional wisdom all along was if the school closes, businesses would close in the community for lack of traffic. But maybe you should take a look at what retail business has already left Crothersville. Does having a school attract or maintain retail business? Does not having a school mean business will leave? Those painful answers should come from our Southern Hoosier common sense.

Two thoughts: merging school corporations will save some tax dollars, but that should not be our prime consideration for education. Rather improving, broadening learning opportunity for students should be.

Crothersville has done an exemplary job of offering expanded educational opportunities by partnering with other high schools and Ivy Tech. We are ahead of the curve on that front. And, perhaps that kind of innovation can stave off the state push to merge schools or school corporations.

Small school communities will be suspicious of such mergers…and rightfully so. Merging school corporations will dilute local input. Rather than a board of five local residents accountable to voters, small schools could have just one representative on a board of five or seven and become a minority voice.

On this front, I have for a long time had an issue—and you should too— with boards with Jackson County in their name not embracing geographic diversity representation on their boards. Community Foundation of Jackson and Jackson County Visitors Center are two examples that quickly come to mind. How can they claim to have the county’s best interest at heart if all communities of the county are not represented?

Any merger with any other school corporation should require local representations on any policy making board. If history is our example, early in our country’s history we fought a war over “taxation without representation.”

Technology always changes the way we do things. When the Crothersville Times began in the 1980’s we used specialized typesetting equipment, layout tables for pages, film darkrooms, and large cameras for page negatives. Now my laptop computer takes care of it all and I send .pdf’s to the web press to be printed into the paper your are reading. Or maybe reading online which is more proof of the expanded technology those in my industry must embrace.

Just as technology has changed the newspaper industry in the past 20 years, that same technology as well as teaching techniques, employment requirements and modes of transportation have changed for education. Perhaps it is time we should pre-meditatively, calmly, rationally, thoughtfully discuss a school structure that is more in tune to the 21st Century rather than preserving our perception of our own educational experience.