Financial tensions threaten to tear West Clark Community Schools district apart
The West Clark Community Schools district in southern Indiana is taking a big step to settle years of tension among three different school communities, before a fight for funding dissolves the school district.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- West Clark Community Schools board members agreed this week to hire a firm to investigate the cost, logistics and impact of dissolving the school district.
Board member Doug Coffman said, "I'm tired of the fight. Let's just see what it's going to take to go our separate ways."
West Clark serves students in Borden, Henryville and Sellersburg in Indiana. Neighbors in those communities are at odds over more than $60 million for school renovations and repairs.
Much of the money -- about $30 million -- would be spent at Silver Creek High School in Sellersburg.
"There's rust, things are peeling, things are cracking, there's seals around the windows, there's termite damage," explained Crystal Gunther, a parent of a student at Silver Creek High School. "It's just aged."
"We want them to be better," said Cole Belcher, a parent an business owner in Henryville, "But we just don't want them to be better strictly at our expense."
Belcher helped lead the charge to gather enough signatures to force the issue up for a vote. He says tension spiked as West Clark scrapped plans for a bigger bond package that included more schools. The district says it learned it could take out new loans without raising taxes by refinancing old debt -- but that meant paring down the construction to the most important needs.
"We were afraid for our two schools (Henryville and Borden), that if we spent all the money down there (Silver Creek), our district would be strapped for the future, and if we had problems at our two schools, then we wouldn't be able to fix them," Belcher said.
Squabbling among Henryville, Borden and Sellersburg goes back for years. Police guarded school board meetings in the 1990s as physical altercations broke out when the district considered consolidating into one high school.
"I don't see the three communities coming together," Coffman said. "I think there's too much animosity between the communities and too much jealousy."
It is a lengthy process to restructure a school district and almost unheard of in Indiana. State law requires approval by the courts, the state board of education, a local committee and -- ultimately -- Clark County voters.
Dissolving West Clark could result in one or two of the communities forming a new school system or joining a neighboring district.
Coffman said, "A divorce is painful no one wins in divorce...we'd need to look at dividing assets where are the boundaries."
Ultimately, board members and parents say this divorce -- and whether to move forward -- comes down to one thing: what's best for the kids.
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