News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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November 11, 2013

Board delays vote on closing Union HS

Concerned citizen committee will be allowed to present plan to keep Dugger school open

DUGGER — Folks strongly loyal to Union Junior-Senior High School in Sullivan County turned out in force Monday night, urging school board members to keep their school open.

The board is considering a reorganization plan that would close Union High School. A 2012 study recommended closing the school along with Dugger Elementary.

“I don’t know where we are going to come up with the money” to keep Union open, said Norman Santus, a school board member, speaking after the meeting in Hymera Elementary School.

The Hymera Elementary School’s gym was packed, mostly with vocal supporters of keeping Union High School open. Many wore black and gold T-shirts reading “Save UHS. Bulldog pride.”

Rather than vote to close the high school, the board chose to allow a committee of concerned citizens a chance to present a plan to save the school.

Greg Ellis, a member of the committee and a leader of the movement to keep the school open, said “Union High school is more than a number on a spread sheet.”

“We’re not just talking about a school,” Ellis said. “We’re talking about a community, families, a way of life.”

Ellis said he did not wish to take the matter to court, “but we are prepared to do that if we need to,” he said.

In all, about 15 people spoke during the meeting against closing the school. All were answered with loud applause from the vocal crowd. The crowd became especially loud when it appeared for a moment the board might not delay taking action.

“We were blind-sided,” said Cali Hale, student council president at Union High School. “We’re hurting right now.”

Chriss Jobe, whose children attend Dugger schools, said he respects the school board members, but is disappointed that such an important decision was being made without input from those most affected.

After the meeting, Baker said that over the last five years, the district’s budget has decreased $1.8 million.

Also, he pointed out the cost per student breakdown is about $9,000 at Union and about $5,000 at North Central.

Last week, board president Ronald Frye raised his concerns that a majority of the board would vote Monday to close Union Junior-Senior High School in Dugger.

“I’m dead against it,” Frye, a Dugger resident, said last week.

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

A Save Union High School Facebook page had 1,489 members as of Monday evening.

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,” Ellis said.

Northeast Sullivan superintendent Mark Baker said the district is dealing with declining enrollments and less state funding. The district has cut 15 teachers and it has cut programs. “There’s nothing else to cut,” Baker said last week, adding that 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 7-12, and Dugger Elementary has about 152 students in grades K-6.

The district’s only other junior-senior high school, North Central in Farmersburg, is more than 20 miles from Dugger, Frye said last week. 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.

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

The 2012 feasibility study presented during the meeting suggested the district have two elementary schools, Farmersburg and Hymera; one middle school at Shelburn, which would close as an elementary school; and North Central High School.

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