Closing schools is unpleasant for everyone involved
Published: Wednesday, November 21st, 2012
Monday, Nov. 12, the Custer School District Board of Education voted by a 4-3 narrow margin to close its two rural schools at Fairburn and Spring Creek. Last year almost to the day at this time, the school board was grappling with this exact issue and appointed a three-member committee to explore alternatives to closing the two schools.
The three board members appointed to this committee a year ago, Tanya Olson, Brian Lintz and Larry Vickers, were the three who voted not to close the two schools. Vickers verbally resigned from the board after the vote was taken, saying he had “no respect” for the decision. The four other board members, Anne Sandvig, Alan Webster, Tim Wicks and Tom Martin, voted for the closures at the recommendation of Supt. Scott Lepke.
No one wanted to see the two rural schools close, but it is a sign of the times and it is happening all over the country. The school district went through a similar scenario in 2001 when the Pringle school was closed. That was also a highly emotional situation.
Lepke explained as best he could that the Custer side of the school district has absorbed most of the budget cuts in the last 10 years. Since 2002, the district has had to cut a total of $2.9 million from its budget, with $1.3 million having to be cut in the last two years. This is not an east-west school district issue; it is a district-wide issue.
Instructional cost per seven students at K-5 Spring Creek is $9,352 annually and at K-6 Fairburn it is $4,200 for 12 students. At K-6 Custer elementary school it is $2,989 per student and at K-8 Hermosa elementary it is $3,828 per student. These costs include teacher and aide salaries, benefits and supplies. The costs do not include special education, custodial and maintenance, administration, co-curricular or capital outlay.
In voting to close the schools, the board looked at the higher costs of keeping Spring Creek and Fairburn open. If there was any indication that enrollment in the two schools would increase in the near future, we are sure they would have voted to keep them open.
A year ago, current board president Tim Wicks, said, “Spring Creek has a personal attachment for many. That’s the reason the school is open. If you look at it in black and white, Spring Creek should not be open.” We are certain both Spring Creek and Fairburn schools have a deep personal attachment for many county residents.
Unfortunately, the board is faced with continuing painful budget cuts and had to make the difficult decision to stop the bleeding and close the two rural schools. Board members and affected district patrons are both unhappy with that tough decision, but it had to be made.
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