Fairburn, Spring Creek schools to close
Published: Thursday, November 15th, 2012
In a night with emotional speeches, facts and figures and pleas to keep the rural schools open, the Custer School Board voted 4-3 to close Fairburn and Spring Creek schools during Monday night’s meeting, beginning with the 2013-14 school year.
After the motion was voted on, board member Larry Vickers got up, collected his items and flipped over his nameplate, resigning from the board.
“Let this be noted, that this is my final vote,” he said after voting no. “I hereby resign. I have no respect for this.”
Board members Anne Sandvig, Alan Webster, Tim Wicks and Tom Martin voted for the closure while Tanya Olson, Brian Lintz and Vickers voted against.
Before the motion was voted on, Supt. Scott Lepke recommended that the schools be closed.
“I recognize the discussion we’re about to have isn’t easy and tends to be full of emotion,” he said. “I disagree that rural schools are the first to go and feel the Custer School District has been very supportive to the rural schools. This is obvious, as with the budget reductions, the rural schools have continued to operate.”
The district has faced dramatic cuts of $2.9 million since 2002; $1.3 million in the last two years. Lepke also received more bad news earlier in the day: the preliminary tax levy in the state is down by 1.4 percent in the general fund. This will impact the current budget as well as next year’s budget.
There are currently 12 students enrolled at Fairburn and seven at Spring Creek. It costs the district $50,403 to operate Fairburn and $65,466 to operate Spring Creek, which are strictly instructional costs and do not include special education, custodial and maintenance, administration, co-cirricular or capital outlay. This translates to $4,200 per Fairburn student and $9,352 per Spring Creek student.
“We could lose $40,000-$60,000 in federal funding,” Lepke said. The district has eliminated a middle school in Custer, cut 18.75 staff positions, 13.75 teaching positions, one administrator, nine programs, reduced all travel, supply and co-curricular accounts, frozen salaries, eliminated the district newsletter and closed administration offices on Fridays.
“I’m not in favor of cutting any more co-curricular activities,” Lepke said. “If you think we have an issue with losing students now, wait until we start cutting those programs.”
The blame for closing the schools should not be placed on anyone on the board, Lepke said. “The blame goes to Pierre, our state legislators and our governor.”
“All the parents here agreed not to take a dime of gas mileage,” said Fairburn parent Heather Payden-Williams. “In order for my kids to go to Hermosa from my house, I figured it will be $480 a month for the next 12 years.”
“If you decide to close us, we ask you don’t interfere with us seceeding from the district,” said Elizabeth Smith. “We don’t want any more interference from the board of education.”
“You’re missing what I see as more economic development,” one parent said. “What you’re doing is creating the opposite. This community is going to fold up and the dust is going to go out behind it.”
“I know it is rough across the district,” another parent said. “Some of these children are going to be on the road 45 minutes across some really open country. They’re going to miss school because of weather. How good will their education be then? I would like to ask Mr. Martin to pull his motion and deal with each school separately.”
“I have a student in Spring Creek and I can tell you, my child will not go to Hermosa. To think about putting my child on a bus through Custer State Park every single day to go to high school? It will not happen,” another parent said. “You can’t replace the values and education kids get in schools like this.”
“I know Fairburn and Spring Creek are good schools, but I also know Hermosa is a good school,” said Nancy Suelflow. “The effects are district-wide. I can tell you for a fact the district will lose students on the other side, too, because the cuts are down to the bone in Custer.”
Board president Tim Wicks ended public comments.
“It is our job to make decisions based on the entire district,” Wicks said to board members. “We all have our opinions on what should happen. None of them are wrong and none are completely right. It’s just the nature of it.”
Lintz spoke first, saying this situation was an East-West issue.
“I’ve received letters from parents and teachers asking why we’re spending money in Hermosa and in the rural schools when students most likely are not going to attend high school here,” he said. “That’s a problem for me.”
Lintz said a number of parents have talked to him about leaving the district because of the lack of a growth plan.
“You can’t say rural schools cause a deficit. Continually it’s brought up for closure and continually parents step up and take more on their shoulders,” he said. “Our mission statement is to educate each child to their potential. It doesn’t say anything about location. I think it really hampers our ability to do that if we close the schools.”
Lintz asked for an attachment to the original motion to reopen the schools once there are a certain number of students attending the school.
That wasn’t done.
“I have asked for the cost of each district and the students in it,” Vickers said. “It has never come up for discussion and I resent that. A lot of the things this board does are underhanded, not transparent and not honest.”
Olson said Custer had taken the greatest proportion of cuts and many are beginning to wonder when everyone else is going to pitch in.
“This is a lose-lose situation for anybody,” said Sandvig. “Nobody can deny kids are getting a great education here, but I know they will get a great one in Hermosa, too.”
“This discussion comes up every year,” Wicks said. “Our job is to educate these kids the best we can and as efficiently we can.”
“The public asks the board members to resign from the district,” Payden-Williams said.
“That has to go to the county and it will be voted on,” Lepke said.
“Don’t forget to turn off the lights on your way out,” one parent said. “We’re not paying a dollar.”
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