More than 100 gather to talk about school's future

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By Mary Keck

Teachers, school board members, state senator Jim Tomes and approximately 100 citizens came to the Ribeyre gymnasium Annex on Sunday, Nov. 27 at 3 p.m., as Col. Darvin Barnes led an informational meeting about the New Harmony School funding crisis.
Barnes opened the session by expressing his passion for the school and the New Harmony community. Barnes reminded everyone of the main reasons for the school’s situation: state funding and enrollment decreases. He then reiterated the options available (full consolidation, partial consolidation, chartering, and a tax referendum), before noting the risks of each alternative.
Barnes also addressed criticisms of Educational Consultant Phyllis Amick’s report, saying that many were unfair and her study was not “front-loaded” and was “a complete report of the stats.” He explained to those present that the 300 percent tax increase was for the school portion of the tax. Barnes also assured community members that their input would be considered if the board chose to merge with North Posey or Mount Vernon, and that students would have transportation to the receiving school.
During the question and answer session, Tomes, a Republican from Posey County, offered to take a delegation to meet with other senators in Indianapolis who might be able to offer solutions. Both Barnes and Tomes encouraged everyone present to write letters to their senators in an effort to raise awareness about the challenges facing Indiana’s small schools.
In response, one person told Tomes he needs to understand where the people of New Harmony are coming from. “You’ve cut 36 percent [of our school’s] funding, but you haven’t given us a plan and you’ve given us short notice. The state has doomed us to fail. I think what we ought to do is tell all the state people they need to take a 36 percent cut in their pay and see how they get along. Then we can all be on the same page.”
Another citizen shared her concerns saying, “It bothers me to think that somebody in Indianapolis has the answer for us, but they are waiting for us to come up there and ask the question. It doesn’t seem that we should have to get on a bus, go to Indianapolis, and tell this story again. It’s not that they haven’t heard this before. Why can’t they tell us now if they have a solution for us?”
Tomes responded, explaining that a personal visit may have a greater influence.
“Regardless of what happens, I’m going to put a positive spin on this,” Barnes stated.  He evoked New Harmony’s history and its idealistic founders pointing out that “people come from all over the world, and you and I are their teachers. We here in New Harmony are education.”
Barnes believes that even without a school, the town can continue to educate and encouraged community members to support the school board’s decision.
By the end of the informational meeting, it was clear that many were still frustrated with the options available, but others were ready to support the board’s Dec. 8 decision. The rally originally planned on Dec. 7 was cancelled.