COLUMBIA CITY — Whitley County’s superintendents came together to discuss their struggles and successes at the Chamber of Commerce’s annual education forum Tuesday.

Whitley County Consolidated’s Patricia O’Connor, Smith-Green’s Galen Mast and Whitko’s Steve Clason discussed a variety of topics, from financial challenges to district programming — two topics that go hand-in-hand.

The superintendents said they have had to find a balance in providing opportunities for students, but also conserving money.

“At a smaller school, we want to continue to provide programming, but we have to look at what we can feasibly afford,” said Mast. “Finances are a major concern we continue to discuss.”

O’Connor said one of WCCS’s biggest concerns is meeting the needs of all students, from special needs to high ability.

“We want to challenge and meet the needs of our higher education students, and we also have students with significant special education needs,” O’Connor said. “We have to do more with less and provide for our students.”

In a smaller district like Whitko, Clason said it can be especially difficult caring for special needs students.

“Our concentration of special needs students is not as great,” Clason said. “One teacher for 2-3 students is expensive, compared to most teachers having at least 20 students.”

The superintendents also discussed their partnerships with outside agencies.

Whitko partners with several businesses for student internships, and also works with a South Whitley nonprofit to provide food to children outside of school. Whitko also works with the four towns the district incorporates.

Smith-Green also works closely with the town of Churubusco. Mast said SGCS also works with the ’Busco Rotary Club and Chamber of Commerce, as well as the ministorial association. Mast said the Impact Center in Kendallville is one of the best partnerships the school district has.

WCCS has several irons in the fire, partnering with the city for the school resource officer and firefighter academy; with the Bowen Center to provide services to students and families; the Boomerang Backpack program that provides food to children in need; the Whitley County Family YMCA for Y-Care, and several other local businesses.

The resounding issue that all three superintendents stressed was the state legislature.

“You need to write your legislatures and tell them to stop messing with education,” Clason said. “They presume they’re helping, that what they’re doing is best. Let the educators educate. Let the boards make decisions and stop mandating from above.”

They’re extremely frustrated with state testing.

“Stop making my 4th graders take 14 hours of testing,” Clason said. “I’m pretty sure the Bar Exam isn’t that long.”

O’Connor echoed a similar sentiment.

“I don’t know how all the rest of us got here without the ISTEP,” O’Connor said. “Our specialists are saying our children are getting burnt out at a young age from all the testing. There’s a lot of pressure on kids with all of these assessments.”