DOUG ROSS: Estate planning for death of a township

2011-01-21T00:00:00Z DOUG ROSS: Estate planning for death of a townshipBy Doug Ross doug.ross@nwi.com, (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 nwitimes.com

On Wednesday, I watched while Cass Township officials began making funeral arrangements for the township government.

Aware of the increasing calls for elimination of township government, Trustee Tim Guse and the township board began the estate planning for their beloved dependent, Wanatah School.

"If we wait, we might not have any options, and then what happens?" Guse asked Wednesday during the township board meeting.

LaPorte County's Cass Township is the last in Northwest Indiana and one of a tiny handful in Indiana where the township government still runs the local school. Because Wanatah School is kindergarten through eighth grade, the township's high school students are given vouchers from the township to attend school elsewhere.

The status quo is popular, but pressure to eliminate township government is forcing the township to seek consolidation with Dewey Prairie Consolidated School Corp., which operates LaCrosse School. LaCrosse High School has one of the smallest enrollments in the state. Combined with Cass Township, the new school district would have fewer than 500 students.

That's a far cry from the 2,000 students the bipartisan Indiana Commission on Local Government Reform — commonly referred to as the Kernan-Shepard commission — would require as a minimum size for school districts. Guse acknowledges this.

"This (merger with Dewey Prairie) could potentially be a steppingstone," Guse said. But for now, it allows Cass Township residents to keep their beloved school, the center of Wanatah's social life.

"We don't want to be a ghost town," Guse said. "We want to grow and thrive."

Next step is to enter into formal consolidation talks with Dewey Prairie school board officials and approve a joint resolution for the merger between Jan. 31 and Feb. 2. That sets up the opportunity for a petition drive to challenge the merger.

If 20 percent of Cass Township's registered voters oppose the merger, it would be on the ballot May 3 for the referendum that even the township officials pushing for the merger want.

And if the merger is shot down at the polls? Expect the Indiana General Assembly to address this issue next year. That's the value of approving the merger now, even before knowing whether township government will be eliminated.

The death of township government needs to happen in the name of efficiency, with those responsibilities transferred elsewhere. Tying up loose ends such as control of Wanatah School is what responsible township officials should be doing now.

Editorial Page Editor Doug Ross can be reached at (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 or Doug.Ross@nwi.com. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.

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