Sue Loughlin and Alex Modesitt, Tribune-Star
Rockville and Turkey Run Junior/Senior high schools will be consolidated into one high school and one middle school within the next two years, after a unanimous vote by the North Central Parke Community School Corp. board Wednesday night.
After an opening statement and a brief public forum in front of a standing-room-only crowd at Turkey Run High School in Marshall, Indiana, the board voted 7-0 to consolidate the middle and high schools.
Beginning in the 2018-2019 school year, high school students in grades 9 through 12 will be housed in the Rockville Junior/Senior High School building, while middle school students in grades 6 through 8 will be located at what is now Turkey Run High School.
The board voted, 6-1, in favor of moving the high school students to Rockville with only secretary Gina Sunderman dissenting. They voted in favor of moving the middle school students to Turkey Run by a measure of 5-2, with vice president Rusty Akers and board member Kimberly Cooper casting "nay" votes.
The decision to make the consolidation effective at the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year passed with five "ayes" and two "nays." Members Mike Neeley and Brandi Vandivier casted the "nays."
Rockville and Turkey Run K-5 students will remain at their current elementary schools, based on township; currently, sixth-graders also attend the elementary schools, which would change under the new plan.
Superintendent Tom Rohr was pleased with the board's decision, saying it's in the best interest of the students to not only consolidate the schools, but their resources.
"We're appreciative of the board, after so many months of study and diligent work, they support consolidation because everyone is convinced it's in the best interest of our students," Rohr said.
Rohr said the next step is to develop an implementation plan and make the transition as easy as it can be.
"We'll start on an implementation plan very soon and try to do everything from names of schools to colors to mascots to changing sports schedules and getting the students signed up for classes," Rohr said.
An hour was set aside for public comments, but only a handful in the packed house chose to speak.
Turkey Run senior Hallie Jones was one of the handful who spoke and said as a student she believes the consolidation will have a positive impact on the community.
"For the future students, I know this will be hard for the first few years," Jones said. "I believe when this consolidation happens, the students will be able to come together and create a stronger bond for our school."
Last June, the board rejected the consolidation plan by a 4-3 vote. The board has been discussing the issue for more than three years.
With the district's declining revenue and enrollments, "It's not a situation anyone wants to be in," board president Scott Ramsay said prior to the Wednesday night meeting. "At this time, we're doing what we feel is best for the kids."
North Central Parke Community School Corp. was created in 2013 by the merger of the Rockville and Turkey Run school districts. It has seen declining revenue due to changes in state education policy and shifts in community demographics. It has faced declining enrollment, which also affects revenues.
District enrollment continues to drop. Last year, it was 1,230 and this year, it is 1,200; Parke County lost population last year.
“I think there is a concern from an educational standpoint,” Rohr said earlier this week. Next year, Turkey Run High School anticipates 134 students in grades 9-12.
“It’s hard to operate a comprehensive academic program” with so few students, Rohr said. “That’s really kind of a driving force. Our teachers have gotten behind this. They are saying, let’s do what is best for kids.”
The goal is to “give students every opportunity we can give them. One way of doing that is to have larger class sizes and grade-level class sizes, so when we schedule students, they have more than one choice,” Rohr said.
The district is not able to give staff salary increases, and it’s causing some to look elsewhere, he said. A big concern for secondary teachers is that they may have to prep for up to six classes at both the high school and junior high level. “It is a lot of time invested in preparing for classes rather than teaching,” he said.
The district’s general fund budget is about $9 million.