Survey to guide NE Dubois school board decisions

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

DUBOIS — A survey about the future of Northeast Dubois Schools went live Friday.

It asks stakeholders in the school corporation — including parents, school staff, students and taxpayers — to share their opinions to help guide the school board as it makes decisions regarding the future of the district.

The school board decided to create the survey at its public work session Feb. 4. The work session was part of a facilities planning process the board is undergoing to prepare for $3.2 million becoming available in its debt service fund, which schools typically use to complete large construction projects and renovations. The board wants to ensure that the funds are used to position the corporation for future success as the district prepares for the general fund referendum — which was passed in 2016 and offers a $600,000 boost annually — to expire in 2024.

The survey — available online at www.surveymonkey.com/r/Jeeps or in hard copy at each of the corporation’s school buildings — includes 14 questions that cover a variety of topics. One question, for example, asks about the importance of the appearance of school buildings, and another asks about the need for a school-run day care program. There are also questions about expanding the preschool program and adding after-school programming for both students and adults.

Two questions ask about taxes. One asks if patrons would support a second referendum once the current one expires in 2024. Such an action would keep the property tax rate about where it is now.

The other tax-related question asks if patrons would prefer a facilities project that happens in stages and keeps the property tax rate steady or a facilities project that happens all at once but comes with a 1 to 6-cent property tax increase for about four years.

The one-phase project would require a tax increase because the school would have to borrow more money using its debt service fund, which is funded through property taxes, to complete the project. In a multi-phase project, the corporation would borrow money — $3.2 million to start the project and more in a few years — as debt is paid off, allowing a stable tax rate, but extending the project.

There is also a question about consolidating school buildings. In his facilities study, architect George Link with VPS Architecture of Evansville, recommended possible building configurations, including dropping to three or two buildings, which would require closing Celestine Elementary. That recommendation has caused unrest throughout the school corporation.

Falling enrollment and the state’s school funding structure which ties school funding to enrollment have caused Northeast Dubois to struggle financially for many years. Looking forward, enrollment projections show a continued decrease, causing the school board and administrators to have to make difficult decisions about the corporation’s future. The survey is meant to help guide those decisions.

“I’m hoping to see the priority areas we need to focus on,” said Superintendent Bill Hochgesang.

The survey will be open until March 4 and is available at www.surveymonkey.com/r/Jeeps or in hard copy at any of the corporation schools. The Dubois Branch Library has computers and staff available to assist patrons with filling out the online survey.

Once the survey closes, the board will compile the results and set a public work session to discuss the responses and the next steps.




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