Parents worried as Mishawaka School Board continues to mull cuts

Mishawaka, Ind. The Mishawaka School Board has some daunting decisions ahead.

Next month, they hope to vote on whether or not to make drastic cuts to schools. By doing so, they'd be able to save money that will help pay off long-term debt down the road.

On Wednesday night, they held their latest in a series of work sessions to discuss all the options. The gym at Emmons Elementary was packed with parents who are concerned about how the proposals could impact their kids.

School City says the largest savings would come from transforming Battell Elementary into a Kindergarten Center, which would exclusively house Kindergarten classes.

The change would result in the elimination of at least 11 teaching positions and save School City about $500,000.

Class sizes at the Kindergarten Center would be capped at 25, allowing teachers to differentiate instruction for students with different learning needs.

The school day would also be staggered with other schools, with Kindergarten running from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. This would allow parents with multiple kids to get them to their different schools on time.

And, School City believes it could even provide transportation for Kindergarten students. Parents could drop kids off at their neighborhood schools, where they'd then be bused to Battell.

But, some parents aren't happy about the proposal.

"I don't think the Kindergarten Center is a good idea," said John Slaughter, who has kids at Battell. "I think there are a lot of pitfalls. I don't think parents are going to be very happy if they have to travel between schools."

If Battell is converted to a Kindergarten Center, that means the more than 250 students who are currently enrolled would have to be transferred elsewhere. School City says a large portion of them would be assigned to Liberty Elementary.

"We love Battell and we're very discouraged at the prospect of you re-purposing our neighborhood school into a Kindergarten-only campus and sending our children to whichever school you feel you can shoehorn them into," said Battell parent Lucinda Habel.

But, there are some parents who are excited about having one school dedicated to young learners.

"I have a 4-year-old who will be a Kindergartener soon and I think it's a great idea to keep them together," said Carol Valdez.

The centralized Kindergarten is one of many options on the table.

The board is also considering suspending Freshmen sports and restructuring its health insurance.

After a $28 million referendum failed in November, there's no money available for desperately needed capital improvements. So, if the lights at Steele Stadium fail, varsity football games will have to be played Saturday afternoons.

They're suspending fertilization of athletic fields and yards.

And, some programs may have to be scaled back.

Some board members did suggest asking voters for another, smaller referendum in May 2015. The money could be used to help restore cuts that are made.

"If the referendum fails, it fails," said board member Larry Stillson. "But, we've got to try. But, we've got to go out and do what we have to do to make this school corporation better. And, just making the cuts is not going to make it better."

Several parents who spoke out at Wednesday's meeting say they would support a smaller referendum and would help get the word out about why it's necessary.

The school board hopes to vote on potential cuts in March.

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