Northeast Dubois to focus on renovating high school


DUBOIS — After a few months of discussion, the Northeast Dubois School Board identified renovations at Northeast Dubois High School as a focus for upcoming construction funds at a public work session Monday.

The board identified renovating the high school to upgrade career and technical education and science, technology and engineering facilities to better prepare students for the workforce as a focus for the roughly $3 million in construction funds that is becoming available in the corporation’s debt service fund. Along with upgraded facilities, the renovation would make space for seventh- and eighth-graders to move up to the high school for access to the upgraded career and technical and STEM facilities.

“By moving the seventh and eighth grade up to the high school, I think you’re going to be able to build one first-class facility,” architect George Link said.

The board did not make any decisions on projects or new grade configurations. Board members did direct Link and Superintendent Bill Hochgesang to look at funding for projects and to focus on renovations to the high school. The board will schedule another work session to discuss the financial possibilities and more specifics for renovations at its board meeting today at 7 p.m. at the corporation office, 5379 E. Main St., Dubois.

Public discussions about the corporation’s future began anew in November when the corporation partnered with Link from VPS Architecture of Evansville to look at how to use roughly $3 million the corporation will have freed up in the debt service fund. School corporations use the debt service fund to cover larger construction projects. To do so, schools generally wait until previous debt is paid off, then take on new debt to keep a steady property tax rate.

Debt service funds can only be used for construction projects. Right now, Northeast Dubois school officials want to leverage the funds becoming available to eliminate the need for another education fund referendum — previously called a general fund referendum — when the current referendum, which passed in 2016, expires in 2024.

Although members of the public have suggested pursuing a second referendum to preserve the corporation’s status quo, officials don’t want to plan on that.

“Passing a second education fund referendum is not a guarantee,” Board President Mary Pankey said. 

During his study, Link talked to school staff, students and the public to identify priorities for future projects and how to best use the school’s facilities. At the conclusion of his study, Link said Northeast Dubois could consolidate into three or two buildings based on enrollment data.

For the last several years, the district’s enrollment has been falling, leading to decreases in the school’s funding from the state. Most of the referendum funds currently go to covering the lost funding, Hochgesang said. That situation doesn’t appear to be improving. Current enrollment is 819, and is projected to drop again for the 2019-20 school year. With that in mind, the school board has sought to better leverage the school’s facilities to provide the best education possible for the students.

“We’re going to have to consolidate,” Pankey said. “The question is how much.”

The board also discussed the results of a public survey that sought public opinion about the future of the school district Monday night. According to those results, the public thought career and technical education programs should be a focus. The survey also showed that the community would support consolidation as a cost-saving strategy.

“I think we’ve gathered a lot of data,” Pankey said. “It’s time to start thinking about making some decisions.”

Moving the seventh and eighth grade seemed like the logical place to start, Pankey said, noting that there seems to be a consensus among the board members that the seventh and eighth grades will eventually have to move to the high school for easier access to the facilities that house engineering, agriculture and technical education programs.

Currently, teachers for those programs commute between the middle and high school to offer the courses.

“I heard a number of comments about the efficiency getting better if we go seven to 12 [in one building],” board member Bernie Knies said.

Pankey pointed out that although the board is focusing on the high school right now, it doesn’t mean they won’t make changes to the grade configuration at lower levels in the future.

Board members stressed that as they continue to plan for the corporation’s future, their main goal will be providing the best education possible to the students and maintaining Northeast Dubois’s strengths: small class sizes, caring staff and a supportive community.

“My feeling is that we can preserve what we have,” Pankey said. “We cannot just survive. We can thrive.”

More on