Pierceton Town Council hears concerns about Whitko

People filled the town hall community room to express their dismay about the Jan. 15 Whitko School Board vote to move seventh- and eighth-graders from the Larwill middle school location to the high school building in South Whitley.

More than 140 people attended the special meeting called by the town council Wednesday.

Council President Matt Brubaker said the council could do nothing legally to change the school board’s decision, nor had council members initiated any kind of action, which had been rumored around town.

“This is an opportunity to gather and share concerns,” he said.

He asked how many people wanted to stay with the Whitko school system, if the high school was in Larwill, and more than 95 percent raised their hands.

Lewis Collier said the school board’s decision was good only for South Whitley.

“The high school has never felt like ours, nor have we benefited from it,” he said. “We’ve had a half century of broken promises. We assumed the school was doing fine.

“A small group from South Whitley actively engaged with the board and advocated for the move. We need to unite and discuss actions.”

Collier suggested the following actions were possible:

• Demand a revocation of the vote.

• Appeal to the state.

• Work with Warsaw or another school district to take students.

• Dissolve the corporation.

• Build a charter school.

• Remove Washington Township from the school district.

• Do nothing.

Collier said 72 Pierceton-area children attend another school district, with the majority — 37 — in Kosciusko County schools.

He noted that 2,196 students attended Whitko in 1993-94 and 1,389 this year. At $6,600 per student from the state, that’s a loss of $5 million in the school’s general fund.

He said charts shown by the school superintendent at a Dec. 4 school board work session projected cash balance losses, short-term financial capability and a comparison of Whitko High School and Whitko Middle School upgrades to a junior- senior high building. Collier asked everyone to make emailing and calling school board members a priority and ask them to rescind the previous decision. He suggested another school district’s bus would happily come to Pierceton and pick up students every day.

“Our kids will spend half of their school life, six years, going to a location we don’t consider ours,” he said. “Whitko may be on a downhill slide now. In four years there may not be a Whitko School Corporation.”

Tony Phillips said he thought he witnessed the death of Whitko at the Jan. 15 meeting when the vote to keep the high school in South Whitley was cast 3-2.

“We were too lax,” he said. “Pierceton wasn’t fighting and South Whitley defended their territory. We’ve made a compromise since 1993 and we could all be driving to the country together.”

Phillips was referring to when the middle school was built, anticipating the development of the Richland Township site as a centrally located high school in the future.

He said the use of the South Whitley digital sign, maintained by the town, made the “Stop the Move” and “Save our Schools” messages on the sign a political move.

He questioned the ethics of the school board, saying board by-laws indicate the members will make decisions based on the best interests of the entire district, not a single town.

He suggested everyone show up at the Feb. 19 school board meeting and make a group, 20- to 30-minute presentation to the board.

Jerry Kreger said he and his wife and their two daughters were Whitko graduates and he was frustrated, mad and tired over the recent decision.

He said the district had a fantastic bunch of administrators. “Let’s do what’s fair, what’s right for Whitko,” he said.

Terri Collier said she trusted the school board members to do what was best for the district.

“Spending $75,000 on four throw-away classrooms is inconceivable,” she said about possible plans to have mobile classrooms for a year while additions to the high school are made.

“They’ve taken the ‘we’ out of Whitko. Let South Whitley have their way, because when the school closes we’ll spend our tax dollars in our county.”

Joe Wolf of Larwill said Larwill has now lost two schools.

“We sat back and thought everything was taken care of. We need to encourage the school board. Let us help them find the way to a central campus; engage them in a thoughtful, polite discussion and become more proactive.”

Tom Pletcher, who graduated from Pierceton High School in 1970, the last class to graduate there, said he remembered the pain everyone went through at the loss of identity when the high school was built in South Whitley. He said he was going through that same pain again.

“South Whitley had a need for their location and convenience to them,” he said. “Has the investment of our money been good for South Whitley? Are there any industries, stores, grocery stores, garden centers or brand-restaurants? No. It’s all along U.S. 30. Our competitors are Warsaw, Manchester, Columbia City and Wawasee, and as a customer we need to think about where to send our children. Who goes to South Whitley to shop? As an investor, where do you want your money?

“This decentralization is bad. It’s a bad Whitko marriage. We’re just adding to the South Whitley community preservation plan.”

Lewis Collier asked everyone to volunteer, screen people who asked to join social media groups and to call their school board members.

The school board meets for a work session at 4 p.m. Feb. 4 in the administrative offices at the middle school and for a regular meeting at 6:30 p.m Feb. 19 in the WMS lecture room.

authored by Teresa Carrano, Times-Union Staff Writer