LYONS — Before she took charge of the fight to get people behind a tax hike to support local schools, Rhoda Davis’ organizational skills focused on outings for Greene County’s Cub Scout Pack 409. But when the Houston, Texas, native realized the small-town schools she values might close, she stepped up to lead a crusade to stop that from happening.
“I realized that beyond keeping our schools here open, there was a greater purpose in working to keep schools in small towns,” said Davis, a former teacher. “Because a town that loses its school, it’s not going to grow and will just die. We are risking losing that, this Midwestern heritage.”
Her three children are among the 811 students attending White River Valley schools. “The atmosphere is small and friendly and inviting, and everyone in the schools nurtures and cares for our kids,” she said. “I don’t want to lose that.” Her family moved to Worthington intending to relocate to Terre Haute, where her husband’s business is based. “But we got to know this town, and the people in the schools, and decided this was the best place for our kids.”
School consolidations are nothing new to small Indiana communities. In 1959, the state Legislature passed the Indiana School Reorganization Act, which encouraged school districts with fewer than 2,000 students to merge with adjacent school districts. The state had 776 high schools in 1956, but the number had dwindled to 407 by 2012.
When state school funding formulas in recent years turned against small school districts, WRV and others with decreasing enrollments began struggling. They reduced staff and eliminated programs, including all honors classes at the high school.
Since 2009, WRV has been forced to cut $1.7 million from its operating budget because of reduced income.
“The superintendent and school board had made so many cuts, and more were coming,” Davis said.