News From Terre Haute, Indiana

November 12, 2013

EDITORIAL: A dilemma for Dugger

Emotional reaction to potential school closing understandable

The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — So many Wabash Valley communities — a majority, to be sure — can empathize with the emotional turmoil gripping the town of Dugger in Sullivan County as it grapples with the possibility of losing its beloved high school.

While it’s been a while since most communities struggled through the pains of school closings and consolidations, it doesn’t take much to re-open those wounds. Even though the consolidation movement that began in the late ’60s and early ’70s has already claimed most of its victims, a few outposts such as Dugger, population 910, remain.

The people of Dugger may have hoped that the dynamics that led to school closings for similar sized communities would evade them. But today they find themselves in the position of having to fight hard to overcome what seems to be a growing consensus that drastic measures are required to meet their school district’s financial problems.

The Northeast School Corp. of Sullivan County is a rural district with crazy boundaries that include the northern part of the county in addition to its entire extreme eastern edge. North Central High School is located between Shelburn and Farmersburg on U.S. 41 and serves the areas of Farmersburg, Fairbanks, Shelburn and Hymera. Union High School is located in Dugger on Indiana 54 and serves the immediate area around the town. The city of Linton in Greene County is less than five miles to the east.

The NESC board is considering a reorganization plan that would close Union High School. Declining enrollments and less funding from the state have created the problem, and the board is undoubtedly trying its best to resolve the situation. But the solution is hardly clear cut. North Central High School is 20 miles away, so parents might opt to send their students to schools in other districts such as Sullivan, Linton or Shakamak that are closer.

The folks of Dugger didn’t see this latest crisis coming, and they are understandably upset with the appearance that a plan was being formulated by the board to close their school without them having input. On Monday night, the board wisely decided by a narrow vote to delay a final decision in order to allow Dugger citizens an opportunity to present alternatives.

Communities suffer when their schools close — economically, socially and culturally. Losing such a vital, vibrant institution can be a devastating blow to community spirit. Dugger folks have reason to be concerned, and we admire their zeal to find other options. They deserve this opportunity to be heard.

We cheer for the town of Dugger as it tries to save its high school. We hope its people can present a reasonable alternative. Still, they are fighting an uphill battle, and they must be realistic about the financial circumstances that are forcing the school board to confront the issue.