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Bills worth watching now moving in the state legislaturePosted Friday, January 30, 2009, at 2:46 PM
There are two bills now moving through the Indiana State Senate that -- if passed -- will have a profound affect on how Greene County schools may operate after the year 2013.
Other bills also introduced this session could impact how local government functions at the county level and how library services are made available.
Senate 521, authored by State Sen. Gary Dillon, R-Pierceton, requires school corporations with fewer than 500 students to merge with another school corporation and requires those with 500 to 999 students to demonstrate that they meet academic standards established by the state Department of Education.
The bill would give small districts until 2013 to find a way to grow their enrollment. If that doesn't happen, they must combine with a larger district within their own county.
The proposal does not apply to charter schools. It also has a provision that could exclude high-performing schools.
Of the 293 school districts in the state, 48 have fewer than 1,000 students. The bill says districts with fewer than 499 students -- there are six such districts -- would be mandated to consolidate.
This bill could impact White River Valley and MSD of Shakamak School Districts -- based on current enrollment figures from the Indiana Department of Education.
MSD Shakamak Schools have 885 students while the White River Valley School District has an enrollment of 846 for the 2008-09 school year.
The other three county school districts are above the 1,000 student threshold.
Linton-Stockton School Corporation has 1,349 students, followed by Eastern Greene Schools with 1,334 and Bloomfield School District with 1,105 student enrollment for the 2008-09 school year.
In the area, Northeast School Corporation -- which serves Dugger schools -- has 1,495 students and Southwest School Corporation in Sullivan has an enrollment of 1,734.
Senate Bill 521 would require small school corporations to merge with others by July 2013.
To prepare for a merger, school corporations must develop comprehensive plans that require, among other things, school board members to be seated through general elections. Corporations undergoing mergers may close buildings, but won't be required to. They can't close any high school in the five-year period following the merger "if the closing is a direct result of the implementation of the comprehensive plan," according to the introduced bill, which is available for reading at www.in.gov/apps/lsa/ session/billwatch/billinfo .
However, another bill now in the Senate could affect all five of Greene County's school districts, if passed.
Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, has introduced Senate Bill 502, which calls for districts with enrollments of fewer than 2,000 to consolidate.
Senate Bill 502 stipulates, "a governing body shall hold public hearings to discuss the methods of reorganization available to the school corporation ... and seek testimony from the public, community and business leaders, teachers, administrators and other school employees concerning the appropriate form for the reorganization."
It goes on to say if the governing body determines reorganization is not in the best interest of the students, the state board of education can be petitioned for a waiver from the legislation.
Bolstered by recommendations from a committee on local-government reform he formed in 2007, Gov. Mitch Daniels has been urging the consolidation of schools as a method of saving public funds.
Those plans were aimed at schools with fewer than 2,000 students when Daniels first proposed them, but that number was pared back to 1,000 when he broached the subject anew as part of his goals for this year.
Other bills to watch this session include:
* County government changes, Senate Bill 506: Eliminates the three-member board of county commissioners, creates a county executive position, and makes the county council both the legislative and fiscal body. Note: Senate Bill 379 is similar, but requires the county executive and voters to approve of changes.
* Elimination of townships, Senate Bill 512: Eliminates the township trustee and township board, and gives township duties to the county executive.
* County officer restructuring, Senate Joint Resolution 07: Removes the offices of county recorder, treasurer, coroner and surveyor from the state constitution.
* Election changes, Senate Bill 452: Local government employees cannot be elected to a board governing that municipality unless they resign from employment. Moves elections of municipal officers to even-numbered years. Allows vote centers.
* Library changes, Senate Bill 348: Provides statewide library standards, and the consolidation of libraries. The bill establishes a public library service planning committee in each county. This committee would adopt and implement a service model for the county, ensuring that the 400,000 Hoosiers who have no library service in their communities would be served -- including several rural areas of Greene County.
All of these bills are important and worth watching closely -- no matter what your political leanings are. We are in tough economic times and possibly the way we have been doing things in the past is worth changing.
The progress of all bills can be followed online, at www.in.gov/legislative and by clicking on "bills and resolutions."
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