LARWILL — In a fiery school board meeting, the Whitko School Board decided that effective the 2018-2019 school year, Whitko Community Schools will have two kindergarten-6th grade elementary schools and one 7-12th grade high school location.
What they did not decide, however, was where the high school will be located.
Eric Trump motioned for the 7-12 building to be housed at the Larwill location, but withdrew the motion after the crowd erupted in protest.
Residents in attendance were upset about the board making the decision while down a board member.
The vote on the schools came after a chaotic public hearing on the issue, during which one speaker was removed by police. Scott Darley began with a series of questions for the board, but the board refused to answer.
“This is not a public question session, this is a hearing,” board member Jorell Tucker said.
Darley pressed on until Superintendent Steve Clason requested Pierceton Police Department officers in the room to remove Darley for being uncooperative.
Other speakers highlighted their wishes for the board to think hard about the decision.
“I understand that you have a difficult decision to make, and I understand that with dwindling enrollment you need to make them soon,” South Whitley Town Council President Randy Cokl said. “I think we need to try consolidation for a few years and then reconsider. We need to be careful of increased taxes. I know in South Whitley we had to do some mandated projects that raised some taxes and that irritated some people.”
Jason Arnold asked the board to reconsider the time of its work sessions so that more members of the public can attend.
“A lot of us have work, and while that time may work well with your jobs it does not with the community,” he said.
He also thought the new school board member should be involved.
“My feeling is that the new board member should be involved with the school move,” he said.
The board looked at immediate needs for a 7-12 building and at both the Larwill and South Whitley locations, trying to determine which is better suited and, financially, board members thought Larwill was the best option.
Immediate needs included a welding machine room, locker rooms, parking, media center, offices, student lockers and various classrooms. To retrofit Whitko High School would cost a contractor-estimated $3.2-million, but to move to the middle school would only cost between $500,000 and $1 million. They also estimated that sewer and water costs at the middle school would be less than half the costs currently at Whitko High School.
If they were to move to the middle school, high school athletic and performance venues would still be utilized.
With the motion withdrawn, the issue of where to house the consolidated middle and high schools will reappear at the next board meeting on Jan. 15.
In other Whitko School Board news
• Matt Long was appointed and sworn in as Cleveland Township’s new representative to the board. The board considered several applicants, and ultimately selected Long.
• Pierceton and South Whitley Elementary celebrated successful spelling bees, with South Whitley’s being the longest it has ever been according to principal Brian Emmert.
• Whitko Middle School faculty and students spent the month talking about what respect means to students, faculty and families at home.
“What we’ve done so far is we’ve asked students to identify what they think respect means,” Principal Gene Sweeny said. “As an educator, I’ve seen the power of respect in the community and how it’s essential in maintaining relationships.”
• Officer Tim Sammons of the Pierceton Police Department gave a presentation on his work in Pierceton Elementary with the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program.
“If you don’t know a lot about it, you think it’s a program to say ‘no’ to drugs,” Sammons said. “In the 80s that’s how it was, but after reworking the program it’s more about an officer coming in and telling kids how to say ‘no.’ We’re talking about how to be a good citizen, how to build on tough times at home and other things.”
• Leah Glassburn, a resource teacher with Whitko High School, presented on her department, highlighting their areas of instruction including real-world community interaction.