I campaigned last fall with the slogan; “save the neighborhood, save the schools”. My other bona fide on this issue is two runs for the West Lafayette School Board. Okay, unsuccessful runs :- ) I think the West Lafayette Schools are great and ought to be preserved.
But let me make these five points:
1) It would be helpful to acknowledge that the citizens of West Lafayette are currently served by two fine school districts. If your child goes to Burnett’s Creek, they will receive as good an education (so say the test scores) as they might at Cumberland. Doug Leslie, once the fine principal of West Lafayette High School, did not drop IQ points when he crossed Kalberer Rd. to become the fine principal of Harrison High School. The Tippecanoe County Schools are not the devil.
2) Mentioning Doug Leslie should remind us all that beyond the “kiddie condos” and the “Weidization” of blocks of our neighborhood (e.g. Sylvia) West side’s struggles are in part the result of at least a decade of curious administrative decisions, management changes, and a variety of unexecuted/failed school plans. Skip over the Married Student Housing debate and start with 1998 and Tom Fihe’s hasty departure. The school board should always meet in the Burtsfield gym under a picture of Stella Batagiannis.
3) The clubbiness of all this is off-putting. “This is all about the process” – wink. “Talk of changing school boundaries is premature” – nudge. Perhaps this is to be expected as we move from “gown” to “town” in the city administration. But this cannot be a decision based on some mutual admiration students and teachers circa 1970 share. This must be a transparent process. Any decision must not ignore the fact that 25% or more of our population cares little or not at all about the West Lafayette School Corporation. No more talk please about “Ronnie's support” (Alting) or “Brian’s office” (Bosma). It feels way too clever.
4) If the November 2006 school consolidation report, as Dr. Killion argues, shows little savings are to be had there (I do not grant his reading of this almanac style study), how can we expect there to be savings through some sort of consolidation with the city? Ride the sports teams to events on a fire truck? (Actually, that sounds cool!) Trash collection? Recycling? Already done. Shared use? Done through the Parks Board. Technology? There are few raves for either web site. Health Insurance? We have a three-year arrangement with Lafayette, though I suppose that could be amended. It is hard to believe this is about the janitors.
5) Almost all state education funding is delivered per pupil enrolled (“ADM” - state average 3400. Westside in 2007 - 1886. Under 2000 is a possible “magic number” for forced consolidation.) If the expectation is that – wink – the City Council will decide to annex county school kids into the Westside schools through an all-city ballot, I would suggest that Joe Micon is right and that there can only be a multi-party solution to the fiscal challenges facing the Lafayette and West Lafayette Schools. On principle, I will not go to war with the county. The Tippecanoe School Corporation's legal position seems strong.
I believe small schools are worth the cost because they preserve community and I love community. Coldly, it is an economic development tool to maintain a high achieving school system. Practically, I believe that the West Lafayette Junior/Senior High School and Happy Hollow School help preserve single-family homes in District#2.
But a little humility is in order.