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Dubach School dodges closure

Residents, officials react to decision reversal
Wednesday, January 29, 2020
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Leader file photo
            Dubach School will remain open after Lincoln Parish Schools Superintendent Mike Milstead reversed an earlier decision to recommend that the school board close the school.

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Leader photo by CALEB DANIEL
            Pictured is part of the crowd of Dubach School parents, grandparents and other concerned residents who gathered Monday to hear from Lincoln Parish Schools Superintendent Mike Milstead about the potential closure of the school.

Update: The number of attendees at the parent meeting, received from school district officials too late for print, has been added — Jan. 29

DUBACH — The reaction from Dubach residents, school administration and elected officials was one of relief and excitement Tuesday morning when Lincoln Parish Schools Superintendent Mike Milstead reversed his decision to recommend that the school board close Dubach School.

“We are ecstatic,” Dubach School Principal Pam Pruden said Tuesday afternoon. “It’s a jolt of really great energy that we have now. It’s like a new lease on life.”

A gymnasium full of concerned parents and citizens gathered at the school Monday night to hear Milstead announce that the school board would vote at its Feb. 4 meeting on whether to close the school’s doors after the current year due to low enrollment and budget strains.

But after hearing the community’s outcry, Milstead decided early Tuesday morning not to place the matter on the agenda.

“I was very proud of the community going out to support the school,” he said in a Tuesday interview. “I saw a caring there that was almost like it had been latent and was now reawakened. People stood up and said, ‘No, we don’t want this to happen.’ And I totally respect that.”

Milstead sent out a text message to all the school’s parents Tuesday morning, saying in part that “Dubach School will remain open for the foreseeable future.” He said the matter is not something he will revisit during his tenure as superintendent.

The large turnout at Monday night’s informational meeting, which a sign-in sheet measured at about 175 people, caused it to be moved from the school cafeteria to the gym. Attendees were adamant that as a fixture of the town, Dubach School needs to stay.

“If we end up closing this school, our little town’s going to die,” Jessie Sibley said at the meeting. “This school is the only thing keeping this town alive.”

Kaylie Summerville, who has a son and daughter enrolled at the school, said in a Tuesday interview that the decision reversal shows the power of a vocal community.

“My mother always said it doesn’t take one or two people to raise a child, but a congregation or a community,” she said.

“That showed last night,” Summerville said. “It showed that we support our children and our school. So for (Milstead) to turn around and change his decision due to what we as a congregation brought to his attention, I think it’s absolutely amazing.”

As Milstead explained to Monday’s crowd, the original rationale for closure was that Dubach School no longer has enough enrollment to justify the cost of staffing and maintaining it. Its total enrollment of about 130 students in grades K-5 comes to less than half the number of students at each of Ruston’s K-2 and 3-5 schools individually.

As revenue sources have dwindled in recent years, school officials estimated the district could have saved between $500,000 and $700,000 yearly by consolidating Dubach.

“Basically we have the idea of few children, big facility, and it’s just more economically feasible for us to put the kids in a school facility where we already have 300 or more kids,” Milstead said at Monday’s meeting.

If the plan had gone through, Dubach K-2 students would have gone to Hillcrest Elementary in Ruston starting next year, and grades 3-5 would have gone to Ruston Elementary. Both facilities reportedly have more than enough room to house the influx comfortably.

In addition to adverse effects on the town at large, concerns attendees voiced Monday included the early hours by which young children would have to get on the bus to attend Ruston schools and the educational advantages of smaller class sizes.

“It seemed to be more about the money than the future of our children,” Summerville said.

After fielding questions for about an hour, Milstead said he decided that night to rescind his recommendation for closure to the board.

He wasn’t the only one having second thoughts.

“I was very upset after I left the meeting (Monday) night,” said Mike Barmore, who represents Dubach on the school board. “I didn’t sleep. I just prayed, ‘Lord, handle this.’ When Mr. Milstead called (Tuesday) morning, I said, ‘Thank you, Lord.’ It was an answer to prayer.”

Milstead said he had previously gathered substantial board support for the closure through individual conversation. Barmore said he was “torn” on the subject.

“Overall I realized the big picture that we needed to (close the school), but I didn’t want to,” he said. “I don’t know what I was going to do. I would have crossed that (at the board meeting) when I got there. But it was an answer to prayer that I don’t have to.”

While the school will not be closing in the foreseeable future, officials and residents said they recognize the need to “step up” and make sure that not only is Dubach School a quality place to get an education, but also that people know it.

“The school is a huge asset… it’s the heart of the town, and it always has been,” Dubach Mayor Mary Claire Smith said Tuesday. “I believe that if we come together, not only as a school but as a community, we can show how important it is and bring in even more improvements.”

Pruden said the school will be putting an extra focus on spreading the word about the opportunities and qualities the school has to offer in the hopes of attracting new families.

And that’s what Maggie Brown, whose granddaughter attends Dubach School, said was among the clearest messages from the events of the past few days.

“It’s all about the numbers, so we’ve got to keep what we have and encourage people to bring their kids there,” she said. “We’ve got a pretty good life here in Dubach and Lincoln Parish, and we need to do whatever we have to do to keep it going.”