The Northeast Sullivan School Board voted 3 to 2 on Monday night to close Union Junior/Senior High School and Dugger Elementary at the end of the current school year and to move forward with a reorganization plan.
The board acted on a series of motions to carry out reorganization, the first to close Union, the second to close Dugger. Those voting in favor were Norm Santus, Marci Childs and Jeremy Swalls; those voting against were Ron Frye and Jennifer Pinkston.
The reorganization, which will take effect next school year, will result in kindergarten-through-fifth-grade elementary schools at Hymera and Farmersburg; a sixth/seven/eighth-grade middle school at Shelburn (Shelburn Elementary will close); and a ninth-through-12th-grade high school, North Central, near Farmersburg.
The board met on Monday at North Central, with an estimated 500 people attending. The school district again had heightened security because of the emotion and volatility related to the controversial school closings.
Even before the board was finished with its series of motions, Union/Dugger supporters started leaving the meeting en masse, with some hurling angry comments at the board and those supporting reorganization.
Some people, including Maddie Ellis, began crying — she’s a student at Dugger Elementary and now will never have a chance to go Union High School.
Her father, Greg Ellis, a spokesman for Save UHS (Union High School), said after the short meeting, “They voted like we expected them to. This was no shock.”
He added, “We feel like it’s not over. We’ve got other alternatives here that we’ve discussed with our group that we’re going to pursue.” One of those is to seek legal representation for possible action against the school board, Ellis said.
The decision to close the two schools “breaks my heart,” Ellis said. “I’ve lived in Dugger all my life.” He has four children attending Dugger schools and if they stay in the Northeast district next year, they would attend three schools in three different towns.
That won’t happen, he added, because they won’t stay in the district.
The board’s vote “impacted a lot of families, impacted a community and a bunch of children,” Ellis said.
Leslie Hawker, spokeswoman for Save NESC (Northeast School Corp.), said the vote to close Union/Dugger and move forward with reorganization “was a very brave decision on the board’s part. They really took into consideration what would be best for the corporation, not what would be best for them personally.”
Save NESC believes the decision was necessary for the school district to survive, Hawker said.
After the meeting, which lasted about 15 minutes and provided no opportunity for public comment, Superintendent Mark Baker conducted a news conference with reporters. “It’s a very somber evening for Northeast School Corp.,” he said. The district wants people to be passionate about their schools. “Unfortunately, we’ve come to the point where we have to make some drastic decisions.”
The consolidation is made all the more challenging by the school district’s boundaries, he said. It is shaped like an upside down L.
“I think the board felt they have done the best they could with the cards they’ve been dealt,” Baker said.
Now, the district hopes to move forward and restore programs that have been cut, as well as offer new ones, particularly in the areas of career/technical courses.
Many parents of Dugger/Union students say they will take their children to other school districts, because schools in those districts are actually closer.
The Northeast Sullivan district hopes to bring those students back, once it is able to expand its programs and curricular offerings, Baker said.
“We understand there are a lot of hurt feelings through all this. Hopefully with time, time heals most wounds,” Baker said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to bring them back with the curriculum we’re offering.”
Now, the district will begin working on new bus routes and elementary boundary lines for the 2014-15 school year.
Today, school officials will begin talking to students and staff to explain the changes, Baker said.
The motions to close Union and Dugger were made by Swalls and seconded by Childs. In making the motion to close Union, Swalls said it was necessary because of “declining enrollment and lost revenue.”
Childs said she believed closing the schools was in the best interest of NESC students.
Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or email@example.com.