PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — Jody Biever and other members of her family have been attending the Big Stone City school for decades, so the possible loss of state funding has rallied them and other members of the community.
“We all kind of band together when something goes wrong,” she said.
That’s not unusual, but the possible solution is a bit unique.
The K-8 school is located in the heart of Big Stone City, a town of fewer than 500 people nestled in the northeastern part of the state that straddles the Minnesota border.
While it’s been around for decades, the official enrollment for the school district this year failed to meet the 100-student threshold the state requires for school districts to receive state aid.
Faced with the loss of that funding, Superintendent Jim Gagner approached Republican Reps. Fred Deutsch, of Florence, and John Wiik, of Big Stone City, to see what could be done. The solution was a bill introduced by Deutsch that’s so narrowly written it could apply only to the Big Stone City kindergarten to 8th grade school.
Specifically, it would allow the school to require only 70 students to receive state aid, instead of the 100 required by law, because the district doesn’t have its own high school and instead contracts with a Minnesota district. The measure would simply allow a pro-rated number of students each year based on how many grades it has.
“We wanted to cut out a little niche to address a unique situation in South Dakota,” Deutsch said.
The district actually has more than 100 students, if you count the 35 or so Minnesota students who attend elementary and middle school, but state law only counts South Dakota students when calculating state aid, Gagner said.
The measure had its first hearing in Pierre Friday and passed out of committee with no opposition.
People in Big Stone City are hopeful.
Biever, a life-long town resident who works as a clinic nurse just across the state line in Ortonville, Minnesota, said she, her brother and her sister all attended the K-8 school, as did her daughter and her son, who’s currently enrolled.
Julie French and her family live in Ortonville, but her son attends Big Stone City school. French said her son, who’s now a sixth-grader, bounced around to several schools before finally ending up — and thriving — at Big Stone City a few years ago.
“The one-on-one attention made all the difference in the world to him,” she said.
French said it would be “really, really difficult” to see the school close, adding that the school anchors the small town, whose population has declined in recent years.
While the school shutting down isn’t likely, making sure the district receives state funding is a major issue.
“We were never in any danger of closing, but it does save us some headaches,” Gagner said.
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