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Sunday, February 1, 2009

Republicans Attack Small Schools: HB 1182 Axes Districts Under 195

A few weeks ago, Sam Hurst wondered if we South Dakotans might find the vision to talk about the fiscal realities of preserving our dwindling rural communities. Hurst recalled this comment from a Democratic Party strategist:

Sometime soon people in the cities are going to stand up to the rural politicians. They are going to refuse to subsidize rural communities, and country schools with no students, and they are going to refuse to pander to rural political power. The cities are just going to say, "Okay, bring it on. We've got the votes" [from Sam Hurst, "South Dakota's Bridge to Nowhere: The Debate No One Wants to Have," The Dakota Day, 2008.12.18]

Nothing like a little budget crisis to put that rural–urban divide to the test. A group of Republican lawmakers have introduced House Bill 1182, which would raise the minimum enrollment for South Dakota's K-12 school districts from 100 to 195.

By my count, HB 1182 would require the consolidation or closing of 27 school districts, in addtion to the four already facing closure under the current 100-student minimum:

District Name K-12 Enrollment, Fall 2008
Armour 21-1 161
Big Stone City 25-1 144
Bison 52-1 133*
Bonesteel-Fairfax 26-5 118
Bowdle 22-1 128
Bridgewater 43-6 147
Conde 56-1 36
Corsica 21-2 161
Doland 56-2 144
Edgemont 23-1 133*
Edmunds Central 22-5 136
Elk Mountain 16-2 28
Emery 30-2 178
Eureka 44-1 182*
Faith 46-2 191
Grant-Deuel 25-3 139
Henry 14-2 166
Herreid 10-1 132
Hoven 53-2 117*
Hurley 60-2 146
Ipswich Public 22-6 102
Iroquois 02-3 146
Isabel 20-2 61*
Jones County 37-3 166*
McIntosh 15-1 152*
Oelrichs 23-3 132*
Oldham-Ramona 39-5 107
Roslyn 18-2 122
Rutland 39-4 125
Sanborn Central 55-5 189
Selby 62-5 181
Smee 15-3 191
Stickney 01-2 127
Summit 54-6 115
Waubay 18-3 163
White Lake 01-3 134
Willow Lake 12-3 194
Wood 47-2 32
*designated "sparse" district, FY2009.
data compiled from "2008 Fall Enrollment: Public School Enrollments by District PK-12," South Dakota Department of Education, downloaded 2009.01.27

HB 1182 does perserve the sparsity exception, so Bison, Edgemont, and the six other districts asterisked above can keep their doors open... assuming Governor Rounds's request to do away with the sparsity funding factor doesn't kill them off.

I note also (as I'm sure do Superintendents Broome and Barondeau) that Burke and Frederick, each with fall enrollments of 195, find themselves one transfer, homeschooler, or small kindergarten class away from closure under this proposal.

The sponsors of HB 1182— Representatives Bolin, Curd, Cutler, Dreyer, Jensen, Kirkeby, Lederman, Lust, McLaughlin, Peters, Romkema, Sly, and Verchio and Senator Schmidt—are mostly Sioux Falls and Rapid City folks, although they do include reps from Canton and Hill City (enrollments 852 and 458, respectively). Every one of the sponsors is a Republican—you know, the party of Sarah Palin and small-town values.

Evidently, the value to these Republicans of the 27 small towns targeted by HB 1182 is less than $14.8 million a year, my rough estimate of the total state aid sent to those small, non-sparse school districts in FY 2008 (readers, please download the spreadsheets and check my math).

Of course, that savings estimate assumes we simply shut down those districts and the state saves every penny. In reality, the kids in Rutland, Corsica, Ipswich, and Waubay would still need books and teachers and classrooms. The districts that consolidate may close one or two buildings, but they'll have to expand the remaining ones and hire at least a few more teachers to accommodate the larger student bodies. So—wild guess—this second wave of forced consolidation in two years would only save half of that figure. And it's a fair bet that the Sioux Falls and Rapid City reps aren't looking to cut the budget; they want that $14.8 million redirected right to their districts.

The consolidation push from the big-town legislators may be following divide-and-conquer strategy: Keep eliminating the small schools in small enough chunks (under 100 was the limit set in 2007) that motivated legislators from affected districts can't outvote the legislators whose districts stand to gain from freeing up more money in the state education funding formula.

Sam Hurst was right. We do need an honest conversation about the viability of our remaining rural communities. We need to consider, as the Aberdeen American News did this week, whether the time has come to consolidate some of our county and local governments. We may need to reopen the question of whether South Dakota can support seven public university campuses.

At the same time, we need to carry out our constitutional obligation to educate every child in the state. HB 1182 would conslidate four school districts in District 8 alone, making it that much harder for families in Rutland, Ramona, Artesian, and Woonsocket to obtain for their children the education to which they are entitled. HB 1182 essentially says, "Your town is too small to save. Move somewhere bigger, where we can afford to educate your kids."

It's not an easy question to resolve. Let's see on which side of the rural-urban divide District 8 Representatives Fargen and Lange and Senator Olson will choose to stand.


  1. Our rural communities are based upon a faulty economic model so they will continue to dwindle into obscurity as they have since 1910. The model is the capitalistic model of modern agriculture. It takes fewer folks to run larger and larger farms.

    Siblings who are disinherited or disinclined move away. Townships depopulate, followed by schools, followed by towns. It cannot be undone using this economic model. On the other hand the socialistic economic model allows colonies and tribes to flourish on the plains and they are gaining population and influence on the plains. Go figure.

    We shouldn't bemoan the consolidation and closings of these over-abundant, under-resourced school districts and schools anymore than bemoan the loss of the one-room school attended by my mother. It's best management practices and it is long overdue. There is no defensible reason to have more than one school district per county - and some sparse counties should share a district. It can be done without putting a kid on a bus for hours.

  2. seven public university campuses? I believe the state funds six. If you are referring to the Universtiy Center, then you must include pierre, and the west river center. All three are SELF supported.

  3. I never really understood why we complain about how we need to shut down the smaller universities, K12 schools, whatever. When you look at North Dakota with a smaller population yet, 11 state supported universities?

  4. Most of these school districts will close eventually through attrition anyway in a few years.

    If we are only talking the saving of money then let's get to business and do it right. Let's have the state control everything. Eliminate ALL sports. Set up computers for children at their home if they live in rural areas and teach them over the internet. Get rid of ALL county government. Eliminate state parks and wildlife areas. Get rid of the department of tourism. Privatize or close all post secondary education. Cut all state salaries by at least 25%.

  5. Big School Districts are not all they are cracked up to be! We have open enrolled our daughter from a much, much bigger school(Class AA) district to a smaller one on the hit list and she has thrived. We found in a larger district the needs of the few or the "special" outweigh the needs of the many. Examples are troublemakers and athletes always get special attention and those who are quiet, average, etc. fall through the cracks. Smaller student-teacher ratios, chances to participate in many things, interaction with younger and older students have helped boost self esteem, confidence and her attitude towards school. The kids in smaller schools are often friendlier to each other, not worried about clothes, hair and social standings and are interested in learning.

    Why should Pierre tell a local district they have to close if they are following the laws, their test scores are competitive(if not better) and they are willing to help fund the school to stay open? How can someone in Pierre, Rapid City, Sioux Falls or Canton know what is best for the local residents of Rutland, Iroquois, Emery or Selby?

  6. Unless smaller schools can be proven to be failing in testing scores, ACT scores or educational opportunities, leave them alone. There is little savings to closing a school since the money follows the students, other than small school factor funds and most are willing to fund a super majority of their local costs through opt outs. All HB 1182 does is continue Bill Janklow's uninformed education policies, which Mike Rounds has grasped so tightly.

  7. Small high schools can't hold a candle to larger ones when it comes to academic offerings. We checked out several - needing advanced math, physics and German IV. All the darn small school principals wanted to talk about was the stupid football team and the band. We couldn't afford to have son's senior year wasted with things he mastered as a sophomore so be went big and didn't regret it. Perhaps there's room for small schools for folks who need to "feel good" about social standing, etc.

  8. Let's have an independent audit completed before we accept that the BOR schools at Sioux Falls, Pierre and west river are "self-supporting". Independent means by other than state government. Trust but verify.

  9. Anon@4:50 - ND v SD is apples v oranges.
    -ND has an income tax - the greatest bane of the small minded SD right wingnuts; while SD funds government on the backs of regressive taxes.
    -ND has coal while SD has none.
    -ND has oil while SD has very little.

    It was incredibly foolish and short-sighted in 1889 to make Dakota into two states for the sake of gerrymandering a three more electoral votes.

  10. The Rutland School District currently has thirty-six open-enrolled students. Thus 28% of our student body families have made the choice to leave a larger school district in favor of what is instead offered at Rutland... our programs, our atmosphere, our longstanding tradition of academic excellence.
    I remain utterly astounded as legislators (mostly) from Rapid City and Sioux Falls clamor to negate and destroy what we are continuing to build.
    This is not about money. The state aid per-pupil for Rutland students is within a couple hundred dollars of what it is for Madison or Brookings students.
    As it turns out- this is money well spent as over the last five years, our graduates had the lowest average placement in remedial college courses of six area high schools (including Madison and Brookings).
    Our cause is just- why not just leave us alone? Let our local school board leadership continue to chart a future course for our district. Let families continue to vote with their feet through open enrollment.
    Especially in a year when state government lacks the resources to build anything new, the gratuitous destruction of 27 functioning, accredited school districts is utter folly.
    Carl Fahrenwald, Ed.D
    Rutland Supt.

  11. Charlie Johnson2/01/2009 10:36 PM

    What major fact is kept somewhat silent is that smaller schools(enrollment ) in larger geographic areas(rural) actually subsidize larger schools(enrollment) in smaller geographic area aka. Sioux Falls, etc. The amount of assessed valuation per student in Rutland for example is most likely far greater than the assessed valuation per student in the SF school district. Since state aid i given out on a per head basis, actual state dollars given to SF students is greater than actual state dollars given to Rutland students. When the janklow plan in 1995 for school state aid was adopted, the effect for education was to create a ceiling for school finances-- not as a adequate floor for proper school aid. The 1995 plan was a political ploy to quiet growing property tax revolt not so much in rural areas but rather in growing metro areas where the number of young families with young children was quickly out pacing the growth in assessed valuation.

    Let small schools keep their local control and their autonomy. The fact they are subsidizing larger enrollment schools, means they have paid for that right.

    Charlie Johnson

  12. Cory - The sparsity exemption is still in the language, but the code that it refers to will no longer be a part of state law after July 1, 2009 (it will sunset).

    This bill will close sparse schools in Edgemont, Faith and Bison.

  13. Let's assume that at least 30 people average are employed by each of these school districts that will lose their jobs through consolidation. That's 700 to 900 people that no longer have jobs.

  14. Most people tell me the education they got at small schools was better. Some kids do did lost in the shuffle, and some need the advanced programs of the larger schools. We need choice.

  15. Why is the media ignoring this bill?

  16. The media are just slow: KELO went up to visit with Dr. Fahrenwald today.

    Anon 8:54: Funny: I thought Republicans like the sponsors of this bill were all about school choice. ;-)


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