School agrees to bus rural students
Published: Thursday, August 22nd, 2013
As promised in the previous month’s meeting of the Custer School District Board of Education, the idea of bussing rural school students from Spring Creek and Fairburn schools to Hermosa School was discussed and approved.
After determining costs of gas, travel, automobiles and drivers, Scott Lepke, superintendent of Custer schools, presented the expenses to board members and rural school parents.
“Putting the kids on a school bus and running it out to Spring Creek would cost more than $33,000 alone,” he said. “Running it to Fairburn would be over $21,000. If we included areas in the park and near Keystone, it would be over $74,000 for the entire year.”
Since many parents were not in favor of having their children in a school bus on dangerous roads, Lepke also presented costs for one Suburban vehicle and one driver.
Picking students up at Spring Creek School and delivering them to Hermosa would be 41.6 miles round trip — 83.2 miles for both trips of the school day. A round trip for Fairburn students would be 21.6 miles — 53.2 for two round trips — a daily total of 136.4 miles for both schools, which adds up to 20,187.20 miles per year.
Including the cost of the Suburban, four hours of driving time for the driver, fuel, tires and maintenance, the total cost for transporting students from Spring Creek and Fairburn to Hermosa is roughly $18,968.77 per school year. Some of that money can come out of the capital outlay fund, but the general fund costs would be just over $14,500 a year. Should the area grow with more students, another driver may be needed to drive a second Suburban.
Rural school parents were happy with the idea of transporting students, since they estimated costs for each of them to be around $14,000 — including fuel, new tires, oil changes and maintenance. Fuel costs alone were anywhere from $3,500 to $4,000, the same cost of private school tuition.
“Considering transportation, I favor the Suburban with four- wheel drive and seat belts,” said Melissa Whitney, Spring Creek parent. “This could literally be the difference between us making ends meet and not. Something as simple as having (a Suburban transport our students) would have a great impact on our families.”
Other parents also voiced their support for the transportation of students.
“I’m a third generation rancher. My granddad moved here in 1951 and he ran it, my dad ran it and I’m trying to figure out a way so I can run it,” said Jacob Rausch, Spring Creek parent. “I’d really like to see some of my kids run it and be in the community I grew up in. But this $14,000 expense is going to make or break a lot of us. I don’t want to leave this county and community where I live. So if you can lighten our hardships, it would be greatly appreciated.”
“With the distance and time involved and working with work schedules, you’re asking a lot. I may have to tell my boss I need to leave early three days a week and my wife may have to tell her boss the same,” said Loren Hayes. “As leaders, when you look at a teacher, how do you handle someone who is always calling in? You don’t like it any more than our bosses.”
“As a member and leader of the community, I am disappointed with the leadership that comes out of this town,” said Scott Edoff, Spring Creek resident. “Every time I come to a meeting in this town all I hear is, ‘We would like a little more money for the community,’ which everyone does. Money makes everything go, but you cast this cloud over Spring Creek. Every time a young couple comes into our community, they hear this rumor that our school is going to close. They’re here one year then they haul up and leave.”
Edoff said one gentleman in the community was going to build a house, but left after the Spring Creek and Fairburn schools were closed.
“Was that economic development? Maybe, maybe not. Tax base? Yes,” he said. “Over the last 27 years, I bet you two families a year left our community. So when you talk about economic development and dollars from the state, it falls on deaf ears to me. You people have created this problem. You cast a shadow over our community.”
“You guys have been talking about bussing kids to Western Dakota Tech (for high school students to take classes for college credit), so when you start talking about transportation for Spring Creek and Fairburn kids, I want you to think about that,” said Veronica Edoff. “If they can do it, great, but as a taxpayer, I don’t feel that I should have to help high school kids get college credits and pay for their transportation, especially when we’re in the situation where we are, having trouble getting our kids an education and through high school.”
The board unanimously voted for rural school students to be transported to school via a school Suburban.
Board members Anne Sandvig and Tom Martin also met with Fairburn and Spring Creek parents to discuss other alternatives for education, such as the Black Hills On-line Learning Community, an online distance learning opportunities through a partnership with Technology & Innovation in Education (TIE) in Rapid City and k12.com.
The program would cost the district $3,200 per student each year, but students enrolled in the program would be counted toward the student count for the district, which could help bring in around $4,000 for each in state aid.
“In essence, we’re paying $3,200 to call that student ours to net $1,200 from the state,” Lepke said. “As of right now, we get nothing from home-schooled students, since they opt out of public education.”
This program could also address students with medical or homebound issues.
TIE will provide a highly qualified teacher to work with students through the system, but a mentor or parent will need to be on hand to monitor students. Students will also have to take assessments to prove they are participating and learning through the program. Lepke suggested the district develop a policy or procedure allowing only students with medical issues or distance disadvantages to use the program.
“We can definitely talk about it more, but I don’t think it’s something that should be available to everyone,” he said. “This is an option that may work for rural school parents. It may be a decision that comes later, but this just makes sense.”
“I would like to see our district provide this as an option,” said Sandvig.
Other board members agreed, saying they would like to see this as a pilot program first, allowing current home-schooled students to enroll and maybe even students who live far away from an attendance center. The first day of classes for the online program begins Sept. 3 and the last day to register is Sept. 10.
Rural school parents weren’t impressed with the idea, saying sitting younger kids down in front of a computer would be hard and lack of Common Core-qualified teachers in the area would be big problems for their students.
“A bus would be cheaper for you than this program,” one parent added.
“It’s just an option and I would like to see us have it available for those who want it,” Sandvig said.
The board agreed to add online learning as an option while researching more.
“I think allowing smaller schools to have their own districts would also be something to think about,” Whitney said. “Let the smaller schools take care of themselves. That would be an awesome place to start.”
Also during the August meeting of the Custer School District Board of Education:
• Brian Lintz was voted the board’s vice president.
• The Fairburn and Spring Creek schools were declared surplus to allow local groups to use the buildings. Volunteer fire departments in both communities are interested in the buildings. Contracts for the buildings are being finalized and representatives of the fire departments will look them over before agreeing.
• The board voted to amend last month’s change of substitute teacher pay to include consecutive days. In the new amendment, certified substitute teachers will receive $85 a day for 19 or fewer days and $100 a day for 20 or more days throughout the school year. However, if a certified substitute teacher would work 12 or more consecutive days, they would be paid $125 per day, since the substitute is acting like a teacher by grading tests and writing lesson plans. The board also adjusted non-certified substitutes’ pay level, with $75 for 19 or fewer days, $90 for 20 or more days and $115 for 12 or more consecutive days.
• The board approved the first reading of the Custer Elementary and Custer Junior-Senior High School handbooks. One change in the high school handbook is the acceptance of cell phone usage before school, between classes, during lunch and after school. Each teacher is allowed to decide their own classroom policies for cell phones in their classes and cell phones are not allowed to be out while in bathrooms or locker rooms. The first reading of the board policies was also voted on.
• The board approved the second reading of the Hermosa School and substitute teacher handbooks, cleaning up spelling and grammatical errors.
The next board meeting will be held Monday, Sept. 9, at 6 p.m. at the Hermosa School.
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