Forum focuses on improvements in NE Dubois schools

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

DUBOIS — The conversation about facilities in the Northeast Dubois School Corporation shifted from the fate of Celestine Elementary School to the need for better science and technical facilities at Northeast Dubois High School Thursday night.

George Link of VPS Architecture of Evansville held the second of three community discussion sessions as part of a planning study for future facilities projects throughout the corporation. Link has spent his 28-year career on school building projects around Southwest Indiana, and is leading the study at Northeast Dubois. The study is part of the recommendation from the 2015 general fund feasibility study by Brookston-based Administrator Assistance that preceded the property tax referendum that passed in the 2016 election.

The board chose to conduct the study now because the corporation will pay off roughly $3 million worth of debt in its debt service fund in 2020, allowing the corporation to take on more debt to complete maintenance projects.

Due to state laws regarding school funding, the school can take out bonds to complete construction or maintenance projects that are paid out of the debt service fund, which is funded through property taxes. Such bonds have no effect on a school’s general fund, which covers day-to-day operating costs for corporations and is funded by the state according to enrollment. When debts are paid off, schools tend to take on new debt in an effort to keep the property tax rate steady.

Community members filled the high school cafeteria to hear what Link had to report about the corporation’s financial future and to share their concerns and desires. Several community members expressed displeasure at the possibility of closing Celestine Elementary. Others questioned the need for additions to the schools given the declining enrollment the corporation has faced — current enrollment is 819, which is 33 students fewer than projected in the 2015 study — and expects to face in the future. Link said he doesn’t believe the school board plans to use the $3 million to make any additions.

“It’s been my understanding that the board is not looking to increase their square footage,” Link assured the crowd.

From there, the conversation moved to what improvements were needed at the schools. Given the declining enrollment and possibility of school reconfiguration in the future, Link said he couldn’t recommend using the funds on Celestine Elementary. What he knew, he said, was that Northeast Dubois High School would remain the high school. He shared that high school teachers would like to see renovations to the high school’s science labs that haven’t been updated in decades, as well as space and equipment to expand the agriculture, industrial and engineering classes. The crowd agreed that that would be a good use of the funds.

“I think that the school could offer a lot in those areas,” said Derek Schweikarth of Celestine.

Schweikarth works as an industrial engineer at National Office Furniture and has guest taught in the high school’s introduction to engineering class. He noted that those classes don’t have the equipment and tools needed to be as effective as other schools’ programs.

“It’s not cheap, and I realize that,” Schweikarth said. “But I think kids are hungry for it.”

Stan Goodman of Celestine agreed with Schweikarth, noting that Greater Jasper and Southeast Dubois both have robust engineering, agriculture and industrial programs. He’d like to see Northeast Dubois have similar programs.

“I don’t think it’s about closing Celestine,” Goodman said. “It’s about how to make this {school} system better and keep it going.”

Link will give a progress report to the school board at its December meeting, set for 7 p.m. Tuesday at the corporation office, 5379 E. Main St., Dubois. He’ll also host a final community session at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 7, in the Northeast Dubois High School cafeteria, 4711 N Dubois Rd. NE, Dubois.




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