News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

November 11, 2013

Board to vote on Union HS

Potential Dugger school closing could send students to neighbors

DUGGER — Ronald Frye, who serves as board president of Northeast Sullivan School Corp., is concerned the board will vote tonight to close Union Junior-Senior High School in Dugger.

“I’m dead against it,” said Frye, a Dugger resident, when interviewed Thursday.

It would devastate the small community and may force residents to enroll their students in other school districts — because schools in those other districts will be closer.

“I can’t say 100 percent, but I’m 99 percent sure they [school board] will vote to close the high school,” he said. He plans to ask the board to postpone action.

The Northeast Sullivan School Board will meet at 7 p.m. in Hymera Elementary, and a large turnout is expected. A Save Union High School Facebook page has been set up, and it had 1,374 members as of Friday evening.

Also, an online petition to save the high school had 677 signatures as of Sunday afternoon.

Concerned citizens are making T-shirts to wear at the meeting.

A Save Union High School group conducted an organizational meeting Saturday at the Dugger Fire Station. “We want to have a consistent message and speak with one voice,” said Greg Ellis, an organizer.

Those attending planned to identify questions they have and information they would like to see before a decision is made.

Ellis has two children in the junior-senior high school, and next year, he would have three — if the school remains open. The school board “just dropped this like a bomb,” Ellis said.

There still has been “no formal communication from the board that this is what they are trying to pursue,” he said.

Those opposed to the school’s closure want to review public records that hopefully will shed more light on why the board may feel it necessary to close the junior-senior high school.

Ellis anticipates asking for a delay in any final decision.

Northeast Sullivan superintendent Mark Baker said that at tonight’s meeting there will be a presentation and discussion related to “reorganization,” although he declined to provide details. He anticipates the board will make some kind of decision.

The district is dealing with declining enrollments and less state funding. The district has cut 15 teachers and cut programs. “There’s nothing else to cut,” Baker said, and the district must now consider a reorganization plan.

In the elementary schools, there is only one teacher at each grade level, he said. The district currently has four elementary schools, Dugger, Hymera, Shelburn and Farmersburg.

Union Junior-Senior High School has about 170 students in grades 7 to 12, and Dugger Elementary has about 152 students in grades K to 6.

The board had an executive, closed session last Monday, and members talked about reorganization, Baker said. Last year, the district conducted a feasibility study that looked at enrollments and facilities.

As the district looks to close the books for 2013, “We’re seeing some of the handwriting on the wall,” Baker said. There are several options, he said, and tonight, the board will talk about those options “and see if they can agree on one and go from there.”

He said he could not provide details of the options because they were discussed in closed, executive session. The Northeast Sullivan board has five members.

Reorganization would mean looking at buildings and grade configurations of buildings. “There is no perfect plan because of how our school district is laid out,” Baker said.

The district’s only other junior-senior high school, North Central in Farmersburg, is more than 20 miles from Dugger, Frye said. If Union closes, many people will probably send their kids to high schools in Linton or Sullivan, which are closer — but in separate districts called Linton-Stockton and Southwest Sullivan.

Frye fears if the school closes, “It [Dugger] is a dead town.” The school is an anchor for the community.

Frye’s daughter, Natalie Reynolds, lives one mile from Union High School and has a daughter who is a junior there. If her daughter had to go to North Central in Farmersburg, “That’s almost a 40 mile round-trip for my daughter,” Reynolds said.

Linton-Stockton High School is about five miles away, she said, and Sullivan High School is about 10 miles away.

For those who live in the southernmost part of the Northeast school district, traveling to North Central High School is more than 30 miles one way, Reynolds said. North Knox school district would be closer.

For many Union students and families, traveling to North Central “is too far. People can’t afford it” with today’s gas prices, Reynolds said. “They will leave the [Northeast] school corporation,” which will then lose the state funding for each of those students, she said.

And she predicts that those who take their junior high and high school students to another district also might pull their elementary-aged children out of Dugger Elementary. “I would want them at the same location,” she said.

Her daughter is a junior at Union High School. “I tell you, it breaks my heart to think she won’t graduate from there,” Reynolds said. “I can’t imagine her having to go somewhere else her senior year.”

Also upset about the possible high school closing is Levi Lynn, whose step-daughter attends Dugger Elementary.

“It’s disheartening,” said Lynn, who set up the Save Union High School Facebook page. “I think a small school setting is great. … It’s more personalized.”

Lynn graduated from Union High School in 2000; his senior class had 23 students.

He understands the school district faces enrollment issues and budget challenges, but the board should have conducted an information session to let people understand what is going on, he said. Now, many rumors are circulating.

If citizens were better informed, “Maybe someone would have a solution,” Lynn said.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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