News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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January 14, 2014

Group wants to form new school corp for Union High School

Also looking at charter school option

TERRE HAUTE — Sullivan County residents who opposed closure of Dugger Elementary and Union High School are pursuing new efforts to keep the community schools open.

But if it happens, it won’t be as part of Northeast Sullivan School Corp.

Those involved with Save Union High School have incorporated with the Secretary of State to form what is called Dugger Union Community School Corp.

They’ve also hired a consultant — Thomas Peeler of Small School Solutions LLP —  and are pursuing two possible options: a public charter school or redistricting two townships (Cass and Jefferson) out of NESC so that Dugger would have its own public school corporation.

“We’re pursuing parallel paths,” said Greg Ellis, who was president of Save Union High School. The preferred path is for the Dugger community to form its own public school district.

The group has presented two proposals to NESC officials, he said.

It wants to purchase the Dugger and Union school buildings from NESC for $1 so it can pursue one of the two options. Also, “We are asking them to sign off on redistricting, which would allow us to go the public school route,” Ellis said.

The group has hired Peeler on a consulting basis “to help us pursue any and all options to keep our school open here in Dugger,” Ellis said.

In December, the NESC board voted 3-2 to close Dugger/Union schools at the end of the current school year and move forward with a district consolidation plan. Reasons cited were enrollment declines and reduced state funding.

If Northeast School Corp. doesn’t want to keep the schools open and must cut spending, “Let us manage our school on our own. Let us do it,” Ellis said.

Peeler has experience setting up charters but also has worked for traditional public school systems.

Dugger/Union supporters “are vehement that they won’t let the community die. If the NESC board had closed one school, that is one thing, but it closed both” schools that serve the community, Peeler said.

Mark Baker, NESC superintendent, forwarded the group’s proposals to Indianapolis attorneys for review Monday night. He’s not sure when that review will be completed, but he will contact Peeler Friday to provide a status update.

“There is a lot of information to digest,” Baker said.

Meanwhile, some key deadlines are looming, Ellis said.

To keep the charter school option open this spring, the group must submit a letter of intent to the Indiana Charter School Board by Jan. 24. Also, it must have a detailed application document submitted by Feb. 24.

That application must outline funding, curriculum, transportation, textbooks and other details, and it must include bylaws and articles of incorporation. The group would learn around April whether it is approved, Ellis said.

If NESC agreed to let the Dugger group form a traditional public school corporation, “That could happen very quickly,” Ellis said.

Meanwhile, Baker said the transition process is under way, as NESC moves to reorganize.

Under consolidation, there will be two elementary schools, at Hymera and Farmersburg. Shelburn Elementary will become the district’s only middle school and the district will have one high school, North Central.

Former North Central Principal Candice Fritz is overseeing the transition, which includes such areas as transportation and curriculum.

The district also hired a third-party vendor to conduct districtwide teacher evaluations, which the district will use as it makes decisions about a potential reduction-in-force that could occur with the consolidation plan, Baker said.

The district will have early registration this spring and it will use those numbers to determine staffing for the next school year, Baker said.

Many Dugger/Union families have said they will not keep their students in the NESC system next year because the other NESC schools, in particular, North Central High School, are too far away. Those families have said they would send children to other school districts that are closer.

Now, they are hoping to keep the Dugger/Union facility open — either through a charter of separate school district.

Baker has said that the uncertainty regarding numbers of Dugger/Union students who may stay in the NESC is making planning difficult as far as staff.

He said it’s likely there would have to be some layoff of teachers, but he doesn’t know how many. It depends on how many Dugger/Union students stay in the school system, he said.

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

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