News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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November 19, 2013

New group puts focus on district

Advocates say saving school corporation is essential

FARMERSBURG — A group called Save NESC (Northeast Sullivan School Corp.) has formed in Sullivan County to support a reorganization plan it says is necessary to save the school district.

The group will conduct an informational meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Shelburn Community Building.

The group’s chairwoman, Leslie Hawker, says the district is spending more money than it is taking in, and that reorganization is needed to save the school district. If the reorganization does not happen, the district will become insolvent and subject to state takeover, she said.

“We have to consider the whole district,” she said. The group formed after a Nov. 11 school board meeting.

A separate group, called Save UHS (Union High School) is looking at ways to keep the junior-high school and adjoining Dugger Elementary open.

A recent feasibility study recommendation, presented by the board Nov. 11, calls for closing both Union Junior/Senior High and Dugger Elementary. Two elementaries would remain, at Hymera and Farmersburg. Shelburn Elementary would be closed, and instead it would become a sixth-seventh-eighth-grade middle school, serving the entire school district. North Central would serve as the district’s sole high school.

With the changes and savings, career/technical education programs could be enhanced at both the middle school and high school, officials say.

At the Nov. 11 meeting, hundreds of residents and concerned citizens opposed to closing Union/Dugger schools packed the Hymera Elementary gym in an effort to stop, or at least stall, a vote.

But Hawker says the board has no choice but to approve a reorganization plan. According to a flier being distributed by Save NESC, the reorganization plan “is the only fiscally responsible solution to NESC’s financial hardship.”

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.

Superintendent Mark Baker has said a reorganization is necessary because of declines in enrollment and state funding; the district is spending more than it is taking in.

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. Also over the last five years, the general fund budget has declined $1.8 million — from $11.1 million to $9.2 million this year.

The district has laid off 16 teachers and cut art, music and physical education programs at the elementary level. Baker has said there is nothing else to cut.

Lori Netherlain, a supporter of Save NESC,  says that “all other schools are suffering because money is being funneled from those schools to [Union High School] to keep it going.”

Hawker agreed. “We’re making all these sacrifices,” she said.

Rachel Ladson, another Save NESC supporter, said everyone’s top priority should be “getting the best education needed for our children.”

Her son attends Shelburn Elementary, which would close under the reorganization plan and become a middle school. She doesn’t want it to close. “Nobody wants to see a school close,” she said.

But Ladson supports the proposed reorganization because she knows the district will be able to strengthen programs, including career/technical, that will benefit her children in the long run.

Wednesday’s Save NESC meeting will be open to the public, but public comment will not be allowed. The intent is to present information and there will be three or four presenters, including Hawker.

The North Central High School valedictorian will deliver the power-point presentation given at the Nov. 11 board meeting.

He will address how reorganization will benefit the high school in terms of technology and career-technical education.

If members of the public have questions, they will be asked to submit those in writing and Save NESC will work to provide an answer, either Wednesday or at a later time, Hawker said.

Law enforcement will attend the meeting to provide security, Hawker said. Police also were present at the Nov. 11 School Board meeting.

The School Board has scheduled a special public meeting for 7 p.m. Monday at North Central High School, when representatives of both groups — Save UHS and Save NESC — will present their proposals.

The board is expected to consider a reorganization plan at a separate meeting Dec. 2, Baker has said.

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

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