News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

November 23, 2013

Volatile combination: Declining enrollment, high costs

TERRE HAUTE — Northeast Sullivan School Corp. is spending more money than it is taking in, something that can’t continue, district officials say.

The district is dealing with declining enrollments and less state funding.

In recent years, the district has responded to budget concerns by cutting staff and programs, to the point where families are sending students to other school districts that have more to offer.

It has laid off 16 teachers. In addition, five who retired weren’t replaced. The district has cut art, music, physical education and band programs at the elementary level; the district doesn’t offer “shop” classes and only maintains limited career/technical programming in high school.

In the four elementary schools, there is only one teacher at each grade level, except for second-grade at Farmersburg Elementary, which has two teachers.

“There’s nothing else to cut,” superintendent Mark Baker said recently. The district must now consider a reorganization plan that would “get more kids into fewer buildings.”

A recent feasibility study, presented by the board Nov. 11, calls for closing both Union and Dugger Elementary. Two elementaries would remain: Hymera and Farmersburg. Shelburn Elementary would be closed, and instead it would become a 6/7/8 middle school, serving the entire school district. North Central would serve as the district’s sole high school.

What the board actually plans to vote on remains unclear.

On Monday, the board will hear from two groups, Save UHS [Union High School], which wants Dugger/Union schools to remain open, and Save NESC [Northeast Sullivan School Corp.], which supports the reorganization plan outlined in the feasibility study.

The board is expected to take action at its Dec. 2 meeting.

The dilemma

Nobody wants to close schools, Baker said.

“We’re at a point where something different needs to happen. The way we’re operating, we can’t continue to operate or we’re going to be out of money,” he said. “They [School Board] have a very tough decision to make.”

If the district does nothing, it won’t be able to pay its bills and it would be subject to state takeover, he said. “If that happens, you’ve lost control.”

Over the last five years, the district has lost 150 kids, representing more than $6,000 in state funding per student. Total district enrollment is 1,290 students.

During that same period, the Northeast general fund budget has declined $1.8 million — from $11.1 million to $9.2 million this year. The cash balance has declined more than $300,000.

The district can’t continue to spend down its cash balance, he said.

Also, the cost to operate Union High School is high, compared to North Central, district data indicates.

Union, which dates back to 1921, has 172 students this year and the cost per student by building breakdown is $9,170. North Central, with 484 students, has a cost per student of $5,891.

The district receives about $6,099 per student. Union is operating at a net loss of $528,212 this year, according to the school district.

The district takes out a $1 million temporary loan each year to meet cash flow needs, Baker said. Such temporary loans “are pretty common practice” for smaller districts, he said.

Compounding the problems is that cutbacks in programming may be prompting some students to go to other school districts.

A few years ago, the district had to cut its certified staff in art, music and physical education at the elementary level. Now, an instructional aide provides structured activities in each of those areas, under the supervision of the classroom teacher and principal.

Band and art teachers divide their time between Union and North Central high schools. The district has one media specialist, who oversees instructional aides in each of the buildings.

This year, about 90 to 100 students who live in the Northeast district are attending Southwest Sullivan schools. That represents more than $500,000 in lost revenue, Baker said.

The Northeast board hopes that by reorganizing, it will be able to save money and hopefully bring back some of the programs the district has had to cut, Baker said. It also hopes to add career/technical programs at the high school level and related introductory programs at the middle school level.

By strengthening programs, “We’re hoping we can get some of our kids back,” Baker said.

The district has focused on keeping all the buildings up and going, but to do so, “We’ve had to cut programs and staff,” Baker said. The district is now down to barebones staffing. “We can’t cut any more staff.”

In making a decision about reorganization, the board must act by next month, Baker said. If it decides to close any schools, those principals must be notified by Dec. 31 under the law.

More complications

If Union High School and Dugger Elementary close, the majority of people affected will probably send their kids to schools in Linton or Sullivan, which are closer but in separate districts: Linton-Stockton and Southwest Sullivan.

Linton-Stockton High School is about seven miles away, while Sullivan High School is about 10 miles away. For some living in the southernmost part of the Northeast district, North Knox school district is closer.

That also has implications for Northeast School Corp. If those students leave, so does the state funding — which may limit some of the program expansion at Northeast.

It also has implications for employees of the schools that close. If those students stay in Northeast, “Most people would keep their positions,” Baker said.

But if those students leave Northeast, the district wouldn’t have the funding to keep the same number of teachers.

Some residents have asked if consolidation with Southwest Sullivan School Corp. might be an answer to Northeast’s fiscal dilemma. “At different times people bring that up,” Baker said.

Fairly recently, Southwest was “informally” approached about the possibility. “At that point, they were not interested in meeting with us,” Baker said.

Chris Stitzle, Southwest superintendent, said that at this time, “I don’t think the [Southwest] board has a lot of interest.”

Southwest has had some financial difficulties of its own and has had to drop some programs over the years because of budget and enrollment issues. “I don’t think they [Southwest board members] see an advantage to joining forces,” Stitzle said.

The Southwest financial picture is improving, Stitzle said, and “we hope to end this year with a positive cash balance.”

State funding dilemma

Changes in the state’s school funding formula have not been kind to small, rural school districts.

The state’ philosophy and policy now is that money follows the child, said Dennis Costerison, executive director of the Indiana Association of School Business Officials.

Gone are guarantees in the formula that a district’s funding won’t decline from one year to the next.

Also gone is the so-called “deghoster,” which provided that even if a district lost enrollment, it didn’t lose all of that funding in one year. The funding loss could be spread out over several years.

“Those factors are no longer in there,” Costerison said. Now, “When you lose students, you lose money. It’s pretty simple.”

And many rural districts are losing enrollment. And funding.

Those forces might cause more smaller districts to consider consolidation, he said. They may find they can operate more efficiently and provide better programs if they do.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Local & Bistate
  • MET070914 house exterior.jpg Historic Ohio Boulevard house inspired by 1948 Cary Grant movie

    Spurred in 1948 by a newly released movie staring Cary Grant and Myrna Loy, coupled with a growing post-World War II housing market, General Electric partnered with Hollywood’s RKO Studios to build “dream homes” throughout the country.

    July 9, 2014 4 Photos

  • Detour ahead

    A panel of public and private officials is calling for $10 billion in projects to upgrade Indiana’s aging roads and bridges, but its members concede there’s no money to pay for it all.

    July 9, 2014

  • MET070814 barrels.jpg MARK BENNETT: Making road work a barrel of fun for drivers

    We’re lucky orange barrels can’t talk.

    July 9, 2014 2 Photos

  • City Council to take up city finances tonight

    The Terre Haute City Council will have a chance in a special meeting tonight to delve deeply into the city’s financial health. However, council members are being asked to avoid raising the most controversial subject of recent weeks: The city’s use of Redevelopment Commission tax increment finance (TIF) money.

    July 9, 2014

  • Bennett accepts $5,000 fine in ethics settlement

    Former Indiana Schools Superintendent Tony Bennett has agreed to pay $5,000 as part of a settlement with Indiana’s ethics watchdog in which he admits to using state resources for campaign work but is cleared of formal ethics violations in the grade-change scandal that cost him his job as Florida’s schools chief last year.

    July 9, 2014

  • Vermillion Jail trusties face new charges

    Two former inmate trusties at the Vermillion County Jail face new criminal charges after a recently discovered security breach at the jail.

    July 9, 2014

  • Lawrence police acquire armored military vehicle

    A central Indiana city has acquired an armored military vehicle for use in highly dangerous situations.

    July 9, 2014

  • Free carwash for law enforcement

    Mike’s Carwash locations in Central Indiana, including Terre Haute, will honor the sacrifice of IMPD Officer Perry Renn and thank all those who serve and protect our communities with a free carwash for police and emergency personnel today and Friday.

    July 9, 2014

  • Indiana agencies told to ignore gay marriages

    Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s office is telling state agencies act as if no gay marriages had been performed during three days following a federal court order.

    July 9, 2014

  • State reports West Nile virus-infected mosquitoes

    INDIANAPOLIS — State health officials confirmed the first signs of West Nile virus activity in Indiana for 2014. Mosquitoes in Marshall and Pike counties have tested positive for West Nile virus. There have been no reported cases of West Nile virus in humans in the state this year.

    July 9, 2014

  • Indiana education board faces contentious meeting

    Indiana’s State Board of Education is gearing up for another showdown between Democratic schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz and Republican Gov. Mike Pence’s appointees and staff.
    The board is set to consider a pair of resolutions dealing with control of the board during a meeting Wednesday.

    July 9, 2014

  • Vigo County Jail Log: July 9, 2014

    The following individuals were booked into the Vigo County Jail by area law enforcement on Tuesday and Wednesday, based on jail records.

    July 9, 2014

  • Indiana getting $849,000 for outdoor projects

    Indiana is receiving $849,000 to use toward outdoor recreation and conservation projects.

    July 9, 2014

  • Semi fire halts I-70 traffic in Putnam County

    A fire in a semi tractor-trailer temporarily closed eastbound lanes of Interstate 70 in Putnam County on Tuesday evening.

    July 9, 2014

  • I&M proposes five solar facilities in two states

    Indiana Michigan Power plans to seek permission to build five solar generating facilities in the two states it serves.

    July 9, 2014

  • MET070814 voice four.jpg Hitting a high note

    A 17-year-old from Casey, Ill., won “The Voice of the Valley” Tuesday night, singing and shaking his hips and legs to an Elvis Presley song, then wooing the grandstand audience at the Wabash Valley Fairgrounds with a country tune.

    July 9, 2014 2 Photos

  • MET 070814 STORM STAUNTON.jpg Clay County residents clean up debris, get power back

    Several power outages still affected hundreds of Duke Energy customers on Tuesday, more than 24 hours after storms and strong winds swept through west-central Indiana, leaving a swath of damage in the Staunton, Brazil and Center Point areas.

    July 9, 2014 4 Photos

  • MET 052106 EVANBAYH ADDRESS.jpg Return to Indiana?

    Evan Bayh is keeping Indiana Democrats on hold.

    July 9, 2014 1 Photo

  • Planning under way for 2014 Downtown Block Party

    Wabash Avenue will be full of activity Aug. 23 as the 2014 Downtown Terre Haute Block Party takes over five city blocks in a celebration of music, food and events.

    July 8, 2014

  • MET 070814 CATHOLIC WARE.jpg Guys give food bank a lift

    A $14,000 donation Tuesday from Guys Who Give enables Catholic Charities to be at nearly 75 percent of its $2.5 million goal to purchase and operate a new, larger food bank near Terre Haute International Airport-Hulman Field.

    July 8, 2014 2 Photos

  • wilson,robert.jpg ‘Dangerous’ suspect in police custody

    A man sought by the Vermillion County Sheriff's Department has been nabbed by police in Indianapolis.

    July 8, 2014 1 Photo

  • eBus brings financial empowerment to town

    A 40-foot long mobile classroom is scheduled to roll  into Terre Haute today, carrying what its sponsors call “financial empowerment.”

    July 8, 2014

  • Elderly woman accused of killing 89-year-old husband

    An 83-year-old woman, described as "a loose cannon" by her landlord, has been arrested in this Buffalo suburb for beating her 89-year-old husband to death.

    July 8, 2014

  • wilson,robert.jpg BREAKING: ‘Dangerous’ suspect in police custody

    A suspect police considered “armed and dangerous” is now in custody in Marion County.
    Robert Wilson is facing local charges there and has a hold on him for Vermillion County, according to Vermillion County Sheriff Robert J. Spence.

    July 8, 2014 1 Photo

  • 051713 BAYH SMILE.jpg Former governor Bayh weighs decision to run again

    WASHINGTON, D.C. — Evan Bayh is keeping Indiana Democrats on hold.
    Party loyalists longing for a political savior to retake the governor's office have been waiting on Bayh ever since he abruptly decided to leave the U.S. Senate and political life three years ago.

    July 8, 2014 3 Photos

  • Vigo County Jail Log: July 8, 2014

    The following individuals were booked into the Vigo County Jail by area law enforcement on Monday and Tuesday, based on jail records.

    July 8, 2014

  • Update: Silver Alert for Lawrence man canceled

    The city of Lawrence Police Department has canceled a Silver Alert issued earlier this morning.

    July 8, 2014

  • Thomas to resign as Indiana’s inspector general

    The only person to serve as Indiana’s top ethics watchdog since the position of inspector general was created in 2005 is planning to leave.

    July 8, 2014

  • Indiana 42 road washout.jpg Photo update: Indiana 42 washed out in Clay County

    A state highway in western Indiana has been closed after heavy rains washed out part of the roadway.

    July 8, 2014 2 Photos

  • MET 070714 CULVER PHOTO.jpg Maker of history

    A humble man with a heart for helping others is an apt description for Terre Haute resident Curtis B. Culver.
    Culver died July 2 at age 94, leaving behind a legacy of missionary work and social involvement.

    July 7, 2014 3 Photos

Latest News Poll
AP Video
Raw: Rocket Explodes Over Israeli Wedding Police: Prostitute Accused in Overdose Death Raw: Brazil Fans Cry After World Cup Loss Weaver Reprises Ripley Role for 'Alien' Game Raw: World's Tallest Water Slide Opens Thursday Raw: Stampede in Rio During World Cup Sterling Testifies in Los Angeles Clippers Trial Track Owners Fight to End Greyhound Racing Day After: Brazil Reeling in WC Loss Mississippi River Flooding Likely to Slow Down Germany Crushes Brazil in 7-1 Win at World Cup Cleveland Picked to Host 2016 GOP Convention Raw: Palestinians Clash With Israeli Forces Man Finds Venomous Snake in Toilet Raw: Panic in Tel Aviv As Siren Warns of Attack Giant Whale Vacuumed in New York City Raw: 10-year Sentence for Ex-New Orleans Mayor Raw: Truck Crash Spills Turkeys on Va. Highway Today in History for July 9th Tornadoes Kill Four in Central New York
NDN Video
Elephant Pool Party at The Oregon Zoo Must-See! Berry and Fallon Form Human Hamster Wheel Pilot buys pizzas for travelers delayed by storm Klose nets record, Germany rout Brazil 7-1 'Purrmanently Sad Cat' Looks Adorably Sad All the Time Pharrell 'humbled' by success of mega-hit 'Happy' Day After: Brazil Reeling in WC Loss Jennifer Lawrence Facepalms Emma Watson Athletes Bare All for ESPN Magazine's Body Issue Raw: Brazil Fans Leaving Stadium Before Half Andi Dorfman Walks Out During the Rose Ceremony 5 Firework Fails for July 4th Justin Bieber Catches Tom Hanks Getting Down, Showing ‘How We Do It Big shoes to fill for Brazil ahead of Germany clash Man's 'Potato Salad' Plea Takes Off on Kickstarter Joan Rivers Storms Out of Interview Watch: A turtle and dog play ball Yikes! This Jet is Way Too Close Late-Night Highlight: Ben Falcone Screwed Up His Proposal To Melissa McCarthy Jenny and Sherri Talk "View" Departure

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
  • -


    March 12, 2010