Meade School Board forms committee to address rural education

STURGIS — A sub-committee of the Meade School Board is being tasked with coming up with a plan that addresses the unique circumstances of educating the district’s rural students.

This comes on the heels of an attempt to split the Meade School District into two new districts – one to the east and one to the west with the dividing line near the Belle Fourche River east of Sturgis.

At the heart of the issue were budget cuts which meant the loss of four teachers at rural schools in eastern Meade County. 

A group of rural patrons, calling themselves The Rural Committee, agreed to halt the split discussions in November if the district would work at coming up with a plan that addresses their concerns.

School Board member Lee Spring, who lives in the rural area of the Meade School District, said at the November meeting that The Rural Committee, the school board and district administrators should come together to find a solution instead of arguing about the issue.

“If splitting is the only solution on the table, then there is just one option as far as solutions go. Obviously, this side of the table isn’t liking it, so let’s find one that they like, or that everybody likes” Spring said.

Superintendent Jeff Simmons agreed saying there is an answer to the problem out there, but the district needs to find it. He said the best way to find the answer is by working together.

So, at the board meeting Monday, Meade School Board Chairman Dennis Chowen, announced the formation of a sub-committee to begin development of a plan.

His initial idea was to have board members Tracy Konst and Lee Spring work with Simmons and Business Manager Brett Burditt. Chowen asked Konst to lead the committee.

“I would like to see you bring a proposed plan back to the board by the March meeting,” Chowen said. “At that time, we can look at it and make adjustments. I would like to see it completed and brought to the board for action at the June meeting.”

Board member Charlie Wheeler said he believed that once the district split issue was set aside that it was the responsibility of Simmons and Rural Schools Principal Brittan Porterfield to put together a plan.

“I’m curious as to why this is coming up again?” Wheeler said.

Chowen said he spoke with Simmons and Burditt asking if they would like some help in putting a plan together and they said they would.

“I suggested we put a couple committee members together from the board,” Chowen said.

Board member Courtney Mack asked if any members of The Rural Committee would be serving on the sub-committee. 

Chowen said he spoke with The Rural Committee spokesman Mick Trask who said he preferred not to be on the committee because he didn’t want to influence the outcome.

“I’m confused as to why Mr. Burditt, who is the business manager, is making administrative decisions for how we teach our kids in the rural,” Wheeler said.

Simmons said after further consideration, he believed Porterfield should be a member of the committee.

“I believe that we need to have some input so that it is not the sole responsibility of the administration. I believe it is important to have some support from the school board in some fashion,” he said. 

In the end, the sub-committee makeup will include Konst, Spring, Simmons, Burditt and Porterfield.

“If I’m going to be on this committee, I think Mr. Porterfield should be a large part of this,” Spring said.

Currently, the Meade School District serves more than 2,800 students in expansive Meade County which measures 3,483 square miles ranging from Whitewood in the southwest to nearly Faith in the northeast. 

The district operates five K-8 rural schools.

Mack asked specifically what the district hopes to accomplish through the sub-committee.

“We need to come together and have a conversation about what it is that the rural patrons want at their rural schools, and what it will take to heal the wound that has been created by not hiring teachers back at Opal, Atall, Hereford and Elm Springs,” Simmons said. 

Konst said the sub-committee would work with rural patrons to earn back their trust.

Board member Joe Urbaniak agreed saying the committee may not fix all the problems.

“If we can fix something, then we’re gaining something,” he said.

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