UPDATED: Community worries about Fairburn, Spring Creek closures - KOTA Territory News

UPDATED: Community worries about Fairburn, Spring Creek closures

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UPDATE (Nov. 13, 5:15 p.m.)

Seventeen students will shift to different classrooms next school year.

The Custer County School Board decided to close Spring Creek and Fairburn schools Monday night.
 
The school district says it can save $130,000 in doing so, but community members worry the closures could come at a much higher cost.

Without the schools, people in the area say it will be all but impossible to attract new life.
 
"That's the only reason they plow the snow and they blade the road is because of the school," said Folsom volunteer fire chief Scott Edoff.

"It certainly will have a great impact on it, and I don't deny that," admitted School Board president Tim Wicks after Monday's meeting. "That's what makes this really difficult.

Difficult, but, according to a majority of the board, necessary.
 
"Smaller schools with less kids," Custer Schools superintendent Scott Lepke said, "it's going to cost more to run the schools."
 
The county's numbers show it costs about $5,000 per student at Fairburn and about $9,000 at Spring Creek, compared to about $3,000 at Custer Elementary with an enrollment of more than 300.
 
"We continue to receive less revenue from the federal government and from our state government," Lepke said, a problem the Board says became worse when voters last week rejected Initiated Measure 15.

That would have provided additional education funding through a penny bump in the sales tax.
 
"We have offered to do whatever we can to offset those costs," said Melissa Whitney, mother of a Spring Creek first-grader and former student there herself.
 
Parents clean the school themselves and have rejected mileage reimbursement for driving their kids to school.
 
"It just seems like it falls on deaf ears," Whitney said.
 
Some say they've had to fight to keep the schools open for more than half a century, a fight the School Board says it simply can't afford anymore.
 
"You try to do what's best," said Lepke, "for the majority of students in your district."

Parents say they'll fight the decision to close the schools, but they're unsure of just what the next step will be.

There was mention Monday night of talking to county commissioners, but nothing is set in stone.

UPDATE (Nov. 13, 11 a.m.)

The Custer County School Board voted 4-3 Monday night to close both Spring Creek and Fairburn schools.

The school district says it can save $130,000 by closing the rural schools, but parents say it'll cost the community a whole lot more.

Even the board members who voted for the closure said they felt bad about the decision, but felt it was one that had to be made.

Board member Larry Vickers, who was a teacher in Hermosa for 34 years, resigned the school board immediately after voting against the measure and walked out of the meeting.

A large portion of the 40-person audience followed him out.

Those who voted for the closure say the cost per student is much higher for the 17 kids in the two schools, and that's simply not fair for the rest of the county.

"I certainly do not feel good about the decision, but I believe it's the right decision," said Board president Tim Wicks. "We felt that ... the other parts of the district would suffer with those being left open."
 
Parents say it'll be detrimental both to their kids' education and to their wallets.

The long drives across the county won't be cheap, and some say that'll be nothing compared to the fact that without schools nearby, it will be near impossible to attract new property buyers.
 
"No one in their right mind is going to come out here and buy property under those conditions," Scott Edoff, fire chief of the Folsom Volunteer Fire Department, said. "They'd be better off to move to town and get a 9-5 at McDonald's."

Parents also say they've been willing to do anything possible to keep costs down and keep the schools open.

That even includes them coming in to clean the schools when the custodial staff was let go.
 
The plan right now is to finish out this school year, and close both schools beginning in the 2013-2014 year.

And even though community members say they're not sure what their next step will be, they will keep fighting.

ORIGINAL STORY (Nov. 12):

The Custer County School Board voted to close the Spring Creek and Fairburn schools Monday night, effective the 2013-2014 school year.
 
Despite objections from multiple community members in the 40-person audience, the board voted 4-3 to close both schools.

Board member and former Hermosa teacher for 34 years Larry Vickers resigned his post on the Board and walked out of the meeting immediately following the vote (he voted against the closures).

Supporters of the decision say it'll save the county close to $150,000 a year.

But parents say it'll mean much longer commutes to Hermosa and Custer, and that becomes dangerous in the winter months. 

"Not only that," said Melissa Whitney, a mother of a Spring Creek student and a former student herself, "to afford the wear and tear on vehicles and the gas and all that, I don't know how we're going to do it."
 
Be sure to stay with KOTA Territory News for updates, including responses from board members, community members, and the Custer County superintendent.

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