Drastic cuts or consolidation ahead for Mishawaka schools

Mishawaka, Ind. The Mishawaka School Board must decide whether to scale back spending or consolidate with a neighboring school district, following the failure of a $28 million referendum last month.

The measure would have paid for major capital improvements necessary to keep schools safe and functioning.

Superintendent Terry Barker says the board must now take action to address the funding shortfall.

Many parents were shocked to hear the drastic measures he rattled off during Thursday night's school board meeting.

"If the lights fail (at Steele Stadium), all games would become Saturday afternoon games," Barker said. "We'd patch repairs to Steele Stadium track, but we will host no home track meets."

Barker says the board would have to make cuts to academics, athletics and staffing in order to keep School City afloat. That would likely mean the elimination of some programs.

Other cost-saving ideas include outsourcing transportation and food services and closing Hums Elementary.

"It was a little shocking," said parent Amy Mazurek. "It was a little more than expected. My thing is academics. The academics have to be there. We've got to be able to compete."

The board can also consider consolidating with South Bend Community School Corporation or Penn-Harris-Madison Schools.

But, Barker says there's a slim chance that will happen.

"Penn-Harris-Madison voiced that they did not see necessarily that a consolidation or merger would be necessarily advantageous for them," Barker said. "I've had some conversations with some folks from South Bend that, quite honestly, they're not sure either."

Many parents at Thursday's meeting said they were against the idea of consolidation. But, they're worried about where the board will be forced to make cuts.

"Of course academics do come first," said parent Denise Shelton. "However, I will scream athletics all day long. I think it helps with self esteem, with obesity, with grades."

The cuts presented Thursday were only ideas, not recommendations, from the administration. Barker says they'll work on calculating the cost savings for each idea and bring the numbers back to the board in February.

He says members of the public will be able to give their input and offer up ideas in the coming months.

"We want to make sure this is well talked out, but ultimately decisions will need to be made," Barker said.

The board could try for another referendum in spring 2015, but Barker advised against going that route.

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