CUSTER COUNTY, SD
The Custer School Board says it will close two rural elementary schools in the district. The issue is so divisive, one school board member actually resigned and left Monday night's meeting.
"We're looking at decreased funding from the federal government, and of course, decreased funding from our state. So when you put those two things together, we really don't know what our revenue is going to be," Custer School District Superintendent Scott Lepke said.
That uncertainty has led the Custer School District to cut millions of dollars from their budget over the last decade. The latest cut, made at a school board meeting Monday, will close the district's two rural schools.
"It's hard. It's a tough decision to make and you're really pulling at the heartstrings of those people," Lepke said.
Although many were passionate about keeping the rural schools open, the superintendent says that the school board's decision really boils down to dollars and cents.
The cost-per-student at the elementary school in Hermosa is just less than $4,000 per year. The seven students of Spring Creek cost the district more than $9,000 each.
"With the federal cuts, the state cuts, and the local cuts that the Custer School District had to make, unfortunately it is something that had to happen," Spring Creek's teacher Julie Zumpano said.
It's a change the teacher has been anticipating, as the district has considered closing the school for close to a decade.
"Change is difficult, but change also helps us to grow. And I really believe that in the long run, the students will benefit," Zumpano said.
Although most of the students from Spring Creek School will attend classes in Hermosa next school year, some parents are considering open-enrolling their kids in the New Underwood School district.