TERRE HAUTE —
No one wants to see Dugger and Union High School close, but the bottom line is that “there is no other choice,” Leslie Hawker, chairwoman of Save NESC, told about 60 people Wednesday at the Shelburn Community Center.
“If we do nothing, we are finished — the corporation will go down,” she said.
The group supports a reorganization proposal that calls for closing both Union Junior/Senior High and Dugger Elementary. Two elementaries would remain: Hymera and Farmersburg. Shelburn Elementary would be closed, and instead it would become a sixth/seventh/eighth middle school, serving the entire school district. North Central would serve as the district’s sole high school.
The district has made serious cuts to staff and programs. “There is no place else to cut,” Hawker said. The district currently is spending more than it is taking in. “We can’t sustain this level of expenditure one more year,” she said.
No public comment was allowed during the meeting, and most of those attending appeared supportive of Save NESC. The Shelburn town marshal’s office provided security.
Hawker spoke, as did North Central High School valedictorian Alek Copeland. Scott McCoskey provided pie charts and graphs to demonstrate the school district’s financial predicament and the high cost associated with keeping Union Junior/Senior High School open.
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.
This year, the district receives about $6,099 per student. Union is operating at a net loss of $528,212 this year, according to data provided by the school district.
Hawker urged the audience to attend school board meetings scheduled for Monday and again on Dec. 2, and she urged them to find others to support the board in the difficult decisions it must make.
Dugger/Union supporters will show up in large numbers, she said.
She also noted that changes in the state funding formula have penalized small, rural school districts, “which are being choked off,” she said. Those changes are forcing small districts such as Northeast Sullivan to make these difficult decisions.
Funding follows the child, and the district is losing students because other districts offer more opportunities, she said. In recent years, Northeast has laid off 16 teachers and cut art, music and physical education programs at the elementary level.
She urged audience members to speak with state legislators to stop the trend of “strangling rural school districts.”
Copeland believes that limited Advanced Placement and dual-credit programs have affected him academically and made him less competitive to some of colleges he would like to attend. North Central offers only two Advanced Placement classes, he said.
He supports reorganization because he believes it would enable the district to offer more career/technical classes in high school and, he hopes, more Advanced Placement and dual-credit opportunities.
He believes his SAT scores would have been higher if North Central offered more advanced classes.
Copeland asked those attending to support reorganization. “We have to do something,” he said.
McCoskey said the intent of his graphs and pie charts was to present numbers and “take the emotion out of it.” Closing Union and Dugger will help put the school district in the black, he said.
William Heath, who attended the meeting, said he supports the reorganization plan and believes it is necessary to keep the district solvent.
A separate group, called Save UHS (Union High School) is looking at ways to keep the junior-high school and adjoining Dugger Elementary open.
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.
Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or firstname.lastname@example.org.