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Consultant presents initial findings

September 25, 2013
Community members got their first glimpse of Dr. Robert Boyd, the man who will be sifting through the Crawford County School Corp.'s closets to help trustees pinpoint a solid direction to take the corporation's seven student facilities, at the school board's Tuesday, Sept. 17, meeting.

School closures have been at the forefront of many parent and student minds since the March announcement that the school corporation was considering taking one of the county's elementary schools and re-purposing it into a junior high school.

Trustees citied a downward enrollment trend and the present need for a separate space for students who attend Crawford County Junior-Senior High School.

Boyd has been brought in to conduct a study of the Crawford County's schools in order to see which, if any, elementary school would best meet the corporation's needs. This type of feasibility study is an evaluation or analysis of the potential of a proposed project to succeed.

"This is the demographic report," Superintendent Dr. Mark Eastridge said. "Dr. Boyd has been employed by the school corporation to conduct a feasibility study."

Boyd is widely considered a professional in his field and has served with the Department of Educational Leadership at Indiana State University. He has also conducted studies for more than 200 schools statewide and has been an educational consultant for the past 26 years.

By law, any school district considering readjusting its educational facilities in a major way must conduct a study that includes community demographics, student demographics, current space and the appropriateness of current space, utilization of current space and economic impact of doing something different with educational space as well as analysis of population trends, demographics and fiscal condition of the corporation.

Boyd presented his initial Analysis of Community and Student Demographics of Crawford County Community Schools to the school board last week.

"This is the community and student demographic portion of the study," he said. "It looks at economics, population, employment and a whole host of factors to give a bird's-eye view, if you will, of your community with respect to student population past, present and future."

Trustees and community members were presented with a multi-page report on the findings in this initial stage — the first three pages being highlights from the beginning study.

Boyd's findings so far have upheld trustees' reports that the student population is falling; however, it gives reason behind the seeming resistance to growth.

"The last three to four decades, the population of the county has remained relatively stable," Boyd said. "And that's kind of significant in Indiana to have a stable population. We have 92 counties in the state of Indiana. Fifty-five of those counties are losing population. So, if you're stable, you're among the better ones in terms of the state of Indiana. It's really only about 13 counties of the 92 that are showing growth in terms of population."

However, while a steady population is good news, projections indicate the county will lose around 5.4 percent of its population due to an aging demographic.

Pursuant to the initial opening findings of the study: "Crawford County's population overall is older, much less educated, and earning considerably less money in median household income and per capita income than is true in the rest of the state of Indiana. Such demographics suggest an important need to seek fiscal efficiencies in the operation of community institutions but that quality of life components are very important in the values of the Crawford County community, and, thus, so are quality expectations for the public schools."

"Our current century has not been so kind to us in terms of population and growth," he said. "Most rural communities in Indiana are expected to decline in both population and growth."

Boyd said, due to the high median age of the county's community, the potential for a regenerative population in need of elementary educational facilities will decline in coming years. The median age for the county is projected to be 43.2 by 2015, 44.4 in 2020 and 45 by 2025.

By comparison, in 2010 the median age was 37 for the entire state; the projected age for the state in 2015 is 37.5. Currently, the median age in Crawford County is 37.3, which is older than the 35.2 currently found statewide. However, it is a projection and not a prediction.

"I don't know everything there is to know about the biological clock, but I know the school bus ain't going to stop at my house anymore," Boyd said in reference to the median age. "You have to understand the reality of that median age on a potential production of school age population."

To add to the projection, his earliest findings have found that the median ages of Sterling, Patoka and Jennings townships are considerably greater than the county and the state median and those townships include more than 43 percent of the county population. All of the Crawford County townships except Johnson showed growth from 1970 to the 2010 census.

So, how does Crawford County Community School Corp. stack up?

Of the 17 school corporations surrounding it, 12 showed student population decreases while only five increased. The school that showed the greatest decline was West Washington at 15.7-percent decline. Crawford County was next in line with a 15-percent loss; from 2003 to the current school year, it had a decrease by more than 270 students. Northeast Dubois showed the most growth in student population with a 5.5-percent jump.

Boyd said that "23.4 percent of the families with children in Indiana are considered in poverty. In Crawford County, that's 31.4 percent."

The population of Crawford County, while older, is less educated but more fully employed in the production, construction and maintenance areas of the economy, all fields that generate less income potential. Due to the niche area of employment and lack of growth potential, Boyd's study has found there is less diversity within the population when compared statewide.

The decrease in economic opportunity can directly affect the student population at a school as parents move in and out of the district.

"It's well-known that when the economy goes south, birth rates go down," he said. "When the economy goes up, birth rates go up."

Total enrollment for CCCSC is projected to decrease another 6.8 percent from the current year total of 1,554 to 1,448 by 2021.

"Unless major community and/or economic changes occur within the community in the short term, this method of projecting has shown to be within a percent and a percent and a half of accuracy on a year-to-year basis," Boyd stated in his report.

Many community members were on hand to hear the outcome of the beginning stages of the feasibility study. Several asked that the trustees remember to keep the public fully informed about the process via updates not only at meetings but also via the corporation's website.

"We appreciate you having someone come in and do this study," Steve Harvey said.

Harvey said it's important to have the impartial judgment from someone outside of the situation and praised the trustees for the decision.

Barton Cooper has been one of the most outspoken community members thus far in the infant stages of the feasibility study. Cooper is a developer and has only recently moved his family to the area.

"This is scary," he said. "I understand most of these numbers because I've done the research already, and I will tell you I am at the very edge of tipping off into a half-million-dollar project on my own personal real estate, and this kind of information could cause me to second guess it."

He also had strong words for community leaders within Crawford County after attending a board of commissioners' meeting.

"If you are a leader in this community on the board I would all be coming together to look at this, and if you're on those boards or committees and you haven't done anything, you're part of the problem," he said.

"The leaders of this county, including the citizens, need to be a solution The first thing I would do is hand this right to the county commissioners and the county council and say, 'I don't know what our county development person is doing, but, if they aren't doing anything, we need to fire them on the spot. If there's not some development here, then we don't need to be paying a development person.' "

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