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Rural Meade Residents Seek Separate School District for 103 Kids

The Black Hills Pioneer reports that three new Meade School District members who are concerned about the funding of rural schools want to talk about doing the worst thing possible for the funding of rural schools: form a new district out in rural Meade County:

“We have a group of people who have been talking about being their own school district,” Superintendent Jeff Simmons said Wednesday.

He said the item about the district boundary was placed on the agenda at the request of the new school board members – John Nachtigall of Elm Springs, Lee Spring of Atall, and J.T. Vig of Opal. All three live in rural areas of Meade County east of Sturgis. They have been vocal about their concerns of underfunding of the rural schools [Deb Holland, “Rural Meade Residents Want School Boundaries Changed,” Black Hills Pioneer, 2019.07.12].

Meade School District 46-1
Meade School District 46-1

I’d sure like the folks out in the middle of Meade County to have their own K-12 school district so they wouldn’t have to truck all the way in to Sturgis for high school. I’d also like the nice folks in Elm Springs and Opal to have their own grocery store and movie theater and go-kart palace. But the numbers don’t seem to be there:

Student enrollment at the beginning of the 2018-19 school year in the rural schools showed Opal had 15 students; Hereford, 15; Elm Springs, 14; Atall, 11; Union Center and Enning, 48 — a total of 103 [Holland, 2019.07.12].

Right now, those 103 scattered rural children and their parents enjoy the benefits of participating in a much larger school district that can hire more teachers and pay them more than any collective effort those rural families could make on their own. If the OHESAUCE parents decide to secede from the Meade School District, they’ll be calling Lt. Governor Larry Rhoden for Legislative favors just like Rep. Spencer Gosch had to arrange last year to save his only slightly larger Herreid School District from closure.

Far be it from me to stand in the way of anyone’s effort at independence. But an independent school district in the sparse middle of Meade County is not an effective use of public resources.


  1. Debbo 2019-07-16 15:12

    What those families way out there have to do is either rent a house in Sturgis, pay room and board to someone in Sturgis for their children to stay there Sunday night through Thursday night, or put in 3-4 hours on the road 5 days per week, plus associated driving costs. All those expenses increase if the child is involved in any extra curricular activities.

    It’s not just the costs of the school itself that they’re factoring in. It’s the savings of not having that distance. Students lose out on high school opportunities if they’re driving because cash strapped families can’t afford more miles. Or if the child is staying in town, parents can’t come to see their children participate.

    If they rent a house in town the mother lives there while the father stays on the ranch and the family supports 2 homes. Younger children are at home with dad while older kids are in town with mom.

    It’s a real struggle for families any way you slice it. It’s not merely a matter of numbers of students.

  2. Donald Pay 2019-07-16 15:48

    I agree, Cory, but, unlike with go-karts, it is the State’s responsibility to provide an equal and adequate education for all students in the state. The state has been failing, and people get frustrated.

    In Rapid City, all of those schools would be shut down, and everyone bussed to a school with 600 students. It is just too expensive to operate that many schools for that few students. But this area isn’t Rapid City, and you have to consider distances, culture and custom of the people who live there. Most important you have to take account of each student, and their needs.

    The problem with the school aid formula is that it is top-down. It doesn’t consider students and their environment, their needs or their dreams. It doesn’t take account of trade-offs families are willing to make to keep a small school close versus having to bus or drive their child long distances, or have them stay with Uncle John.

    The sparsity issue has been plaguing rural education for decades. I don’t know what the answer is except more money. If they formed their own district they could more easily opt out of state-mandated limits on property taxes, and make up in their own money what the state refuses to pay.

    Wisconsin has similar problems with funding rural education, because much of the funding system is similar to South Dakota’s. Rural districts in Wisconsin have been using what are equivalent to opt-outs to increase property taxes on themselves to keep rural schools operating during the Walker years when education funding was insufficient.

  3. Donald Pay 2019-07-16 15:54

    It’s great to see Deb Holland’s byline on the Black Hills Pioneer article. She has been covering the education beat in the Black Hills for decades.

  4. grudznick 2019-07-16 18:18

    By golly, Mr. Pay,, it is the school district’s responsibility to educate those kids, and if they need a new school out there in Mr. Rhoden’s back yard then they should opt out of property tax limits and raise those funds, by golly.

    By golly, Mr. Pay, we need more consolidation of schools, counties, and cities. Consolidation is where it’s at. We, here in South Dakota, do not want to become Wisconsin. Move back, and vote with us.

  5. Roger Cornelius 2019-07-16 20:06

    Rural Mead County has been having a tough time lately.
    On July 15 they nearly lost their ambulance service.
    Fortunately service has been extended through the of the year.

  6. Porter Lansing 2019-07-16 20:20

    Yet, she brags about the surplus money. How much y’all need? We’ll do a Blue State go fund me for kids that need a school. All kids matter!
    What’s that, Governor? One room school houses are cheap?

  7. grudznick 2019-07-16 20:44

    You can’t get free services forever, Mr. C. Those fellows in Sturgis don’t think they should subsidize all the free rides for fat, drunk bikers being hauled in from the Buffalo Chip and the Gongadalong and Glencoefest. And if Enning wants a high school they’re going to have to opt out and gongadalong up the chips themselves.

  8. Roger Cornelius 2019-07-16 20:52

    How presumptive of you, I did not suggest to you or anyone else that people in rural Meade County get any thing for free.
    What difference does it make to conservative with common sense if a resident of the county dies because they can’t get an ambulance ride to the hospital.

  9. Donald Pay 2019-07-16 21:23


    I agree with you that South Dakota school districts need to consolidate, but this issue is driven by school closures, and that is a different issue. My understanding is that the rural residents want to create a more local district that, perhaps, will be able to keep their rural schools open. While rural sparsity issues have been an issue for decades, the recent change in the funding formula has brought it forward with a vengeance.

    I think the recent formula change might actual provide an incentive for rural residents to proliferate small districts, which is the opposite of what I think they were trying to encourage. If rural residents can create smaller, local districts, they have an easier time opting out. In Meade County, for example they won’t have to depend on convincing Sturgis and the I-90 corridor voters to pay taxes for their rural schools. They can decide it more locally.

  10. j 2019-07-16 22:23

    Please note that Meade County School District operates and funds FIVE rural schools, all with their own certified teachers, buildings & maintenance, materials, internet access, etc. They are in Union Center, Wasta, Hereford, Opal, and Atall. No need for residents to live in Sturgis since these schools are located right where the family ranches are located. This is a vital piece of information your story missed. Thank you!

  11. jerry 2019-07-17 07:59

    A governor and legislature that was business smart and a PUC that had some brains as well, would’ve taxed the black snake oil poison that runs through those areas for needed monies for schools and infrastructure. They make billions while we get headaches.

  12. jerry 2019-07-17 08:17

    John Dale is a racist, just like the rest of those who voted and follow trump. Where your racist badge proudly dude, it is so you.

    “NEW YORK (Reuters) – Support for U.S. President Donald Trump increased slightly among Republicans after he lashed out on Twitter over the weekend in a racially charged attack on four minority Democratic congresswomen, a Reuters/Ipsos public opinion poll shows.”

    My America has stumbled back in time to 1861. In the meantime, we have an accused rapist, pedophile and Russian stooge in the White House that is running concentration camps. Through his ineptness, we have guns trained on Iran and they have them trained back on us, better hope like hell no one pulls the trigger. North Korean leader Kim’s portrait hangs in our White House while the planet burns. In all of this, we have racism, worse than ever because we are poor and barely making it so it has to be someone’s fault. It is, it’s called the gilded class that has taken over the United States government as their own piggy bank.

  13. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-07-17 19:11

    J, I didn’t miss the fact that the Meade School District runs those remote sites for the younger rural kids. I put those numbers right in the second blockquote and included the map showing their locations. Do you deny my point that it is easier for Meade, as a larger district, to support those remote sites as part of their larger budget than it would be for those rural families to maintain their sites independently?

  14. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-07-17 19:16

    I do appreciate Donald’s point that the analogy to go-karts is imperfect, as K-12 education is a right guaranteed to those 103 rural kids by the state constitution. But those rural families are going to have a hard time bearing their share of that obligation if they plan to build and staff their own high school in Union Center. Can the ag landholders in that part of Meade County afford the higher opt-out taxes it would take to provide that adequate education on their own?

  15. marvin kammerer 2019-07-18 10:40

    two of my daughters teach in rural meade co. one in the faith district & the other in the sturgis requires a lot of driving. one lives in bison & the other south of union center. the oldest has taught in all of these schools for 37 years. they are well thought of by the people .one has taught grandkids of former students.that is their giving back to rural people who are the backbone of ranch culture. all of our kids rode horses to school before they went to high school in sturgis with a bus ride of about 70 miles to & from. the school they rode horses to was built by my grandfather in 1889.i was the last chairman of the was closed by the meade district in the early 1980’s.i think the big issue here is mostly to keep these schools open! so much for a little history.

  16. Donald Pay 2019-07-18 11:01

    Marvin, that is great history, and it shows how deeply rural folks care about education. That you have daughters who care enough to stay and fight to keep rural education going is admirable. I know or knew of several folks in rural Meade County who attended those schools. I hope they can keep them going.

  17. Donald Pay 2019-07-18 11:09

    Cory, I’m not sure. That new district would get state funding based partly on their property tax base. Until they do the calculations, they won’t know. It would also affect the Sturgis District.

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