Two options for adjusting to falling enrollment remain on HCCSC table

Two options for adjusting to declining enrollment remain on the table following the Huntington County Community School Corporation Board of Trustees’ work session on Monday, May 15.

School board members want more detailed information on the particulars of those two options, which are:

• Closing Lancaster, Northwest and Roanoke elementary schools; building a new school in the northeast area of Huntington County; and re-opening the Horace Mann Education Center as a school.

• Closing Lancaster and Northwest elementary schools and re-opening Horace Mann Education Center as a school.

“There is nothing set in stone,” Superintendent Randy Harris said.

A demographic study has shown that the number of school-aged children in Huntington County is declining, resulting in a decrease of about 700 students from 2011-12 to 2016-17 — and that decline is expected to continue.

Board members asked for detailed information on bus transportation, class sizes and staff changes.

Under either option, Salamonie Elementary School would gain students to fill some of that school’s 16 empty classrooms as its boundaries are extended to include roughly the south half of Huntington County.

Roanoke Elementary, on the other hand, is filled to capacity — but it’s also the oldest building in the corporation and the most likely to eventually need expensive renovations. If the board chooses to close that building, it would be replaced by a new school.

Harris noted that the corporation will pay off some debt at the end of this year and additional debt in 2025. If the current tax rate is maintained, he said, money would be available for both major renovations at Huntington North High School and the construction of a new elementary school. The question, he said, is in what order those two projects would be done.

The Horace Mann Education Center currently houses the corporation’s administrative offices. It would cost about $10,000 to remove walls added to separate those offices,  said Jon Bennett, assistant superintendent for business and classified staff. Desks, chairs, computer labs and other furnishings from closed buildings would be moved to Horace Mann so that it could be used again as a school.

Harris said that if the board decided to reopen Horace Mann as a school, a search would begin for a new location for the administrative offices.

Bennett said the corporation would save about $360,000 per year in utility and personnel costs for each school closed. Redistricting could lead to the elimination of three to five positions, Bennett said, and other teachers from closed schools would be offered an opportunity to transfer to a different school.

Board President Matt Roth said the board should hold a forum to allow input from community members, although he noted the apparent lack of interest in Monday night’s proceedings — with only nine people logged on to watch a livestream of the session and four people, all students and teachers, in the audience.

The school board’s next regular meeting is on May 22, and the next work session is on June 5. Both are open to the public.