Date of Award

Spring 5-10-2019

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Leadership


Catharine Biddle

Second Committee Member

Ian Mette

Third Committee Member

Janet Fairman

Additional Committee Members

Paul Knowles

Mindy Crandall


It is estimated that the United States lost almost eight million manufacturing jobs in total from its peak in 1979 to 2010, which not only resulted in job loss, but wage depression and higher welfare spending in the US (Dubner, 2017, DeSilver, 2017). These losses were exacerbated in small rural mill towns where up to 70% of a town’s revenues, at some point, had depended on the exiting industry. Too often, affected workers, if they did find work, were reallocated to jobs with dramatic wage reductions, leaving communities with substantially reduced funding revenues and rising welfare, disability, public service expenditures, and reduced school funding (Dubner, 2017). These industry closures represent economic shocks. As public schools are funded by local taxes, and often account for over 50% of a town’s revenues, communities in economic distress are often prompted to examine the necessity of their schools in order to determine what is financially feasible. In this qualitative study, three communities are examined to determine how the micropolitics within the communities addressed the sudden loss of funding after a paper mill closure and what the mill’s closure meant to their local public schools. Thirty-five interviews and three written responses are analyzed, and the findings are supported and verified through the use of descriptive statistics and secondary sources. Two additional interviews were conducted and transcribed in order to gain information on school funding and mill valuation. This study highlighted three key elements that be used to address the financial distress of the community and its schools: a local capacity to recognize and implement the work needed to financially prepare for the economic shock, the collaborative ability to work towards a common vision, and the establishment of a purpose where the school is integrated as an essential component of the community. Communities where individuals, small groups, and informal leaders worked in conjunction with the formal leadership resulted in increased success in achieving those three elements. In communities where the informal and formal leadership groups were unable to achieve those three elements, communication was found to be weak, trust was lacking, and progress in overcoming the financial crisis was stymied.