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Community vs. Money Debate At School Meeting

September 10, 2012, 10:14 PM by David Brown

Community vs. Money Debate At School Meeting

The debate is about the future of their children.  But Sioux Falls parents are learning more about the possibility of three different elementary schools closing. The district held a public input meeting Monday night to discuss some options on the table. But some in the crowd felt the clash came down to community versus money.

Dozens of parents, teachers and even a few students showed up for the discussion with school board members. For the most part, the discussion was civil with no one really objecting to the proposal to tear down Longfellow, Jefferson and Mark Twain elementary schools for a rebuilt Mark Twain. But toward the end, the conversation shifted to how tradition could be in the history books.

"I guess it's good they have interest in what the public has to say," Longfellow Elementary parent Matt Baumgartner said.

It was a full meeting room packed with dozens of citizens arguing about everything from class sizes to technology. But some felt the discussion was a bit one-sided.

"I wasn't left with the impression, though, that it was to hear our opinions so much as to try and reassure us that our opinions weren't correct," Baumgartner said.

Baumgartner has a first grader at Longfellow. He wants the district to invest the estimated $4.1 million to update it for the next 20 years instead of consolidating it with Mark Twain.

"I live in the central part of town because I enjoy being able to have my kids walk to a small school," Baumgartner said. "I like the fact that everybody in the community knows each other. I like the fact it's an asset to the neighborhood."

"I like the community schools," Jefferson Elementary parent Corey Scott said. "I grew up in a small town, so I like the tight-knit school."

Scott has two children who go to Jefferson. Although that school wasn't discussed as extensively, it was still on the list of possible closures. He believes the neighborhood dynamic would be negatively impacted without local elementary schools.

"I'm pretty uptight about the possible closing of Jefferson," Scott said. "We bought a house there a few years ago and we just want to keep that community school."

"It's great to be able to walk your kids to school in the morning, walk down and pick them up after school," Baumgartner said.

Scott knows the district has to consider the financial aspect of the situation

"I understand the money," Scott said. "It's education, but it's also business."

But he doesn't want the battle between cash and community to decide it.

"I want my kids not to be a number," Scott said. "I want them to be a student. I want the teachers to know their names. I want the administration to know their names."

Monday was just a public input meeting with no decisions being made. In fact, there'll be another meeting on September 24. During the session, Baumgartner also asked about a rumor that's been floating around of whether Sanford Health has contacted the district to purchase the Jefferson property. Superintendent Pam Homan flatly denied it. We attempted to contact someone at Sanford, but no official returned our calls.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
The district was asked about Sanford Health's interest in the Jefferson property, not the Longfellow property.

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