State Representatives work to keep school aid in Big Stone City

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The Big Stone City school is a small town school with a friendly feel.

“We have six kids in our class. We’re like all best friends,” 8th grader Justine Wiik said.

“The community is involved, they come to all our events. It’s just fun,” 8th grader Natalie Strei said.

Wiik and Strei only have six students in their class, but the rest of the school has more. Big Stone City superintendent Jim Gagner says 78 students are currently being taught at Big Stone City school. Because of the state law requiring schools to have at least 100 students K-12, Big Stone City may be in trouble. There is even a bigger problem though, these numbers don’t precisely paint the picture of how many students really are getting a Big Stone City education.

Big Stone City has a school that houses preschool through 8th grade. Big Stone has a contract with surrounding schools, so after 8th grade, kids can choose where they want to go to high school. These students are still considered in the Big Stone City enrollment. The skewed numbers come when looking at where students are coming from. If students from Ortonville, Minn. want to go to school in Big Stone City, they are not accounted in the South Dakota enrollment numbers.

“Minnesota claims their students in their district. We claim ours in our district, and that's how the numbers kind of drop off,” Jim Gagner said.

Gagner went onto say that Big Stone City certainly has over 100 students.

“We have our Big Stone citizens that we count in our state aid; however, if you look on paper, we educate far more than that. If I put the numbers together, we educate probably 127 students “K” through 12,” Gagner said.

District 4 state Representatives see this problem and are working to fix it. They are proposing a bill to provide a solution to this problem.

The bill would add a sentence to the existing law. It would read: “For any school district that does not operate a high school and contracts with an adjoining school district in Minnesota to educate its resident high school students, the minimum fall enrollment that the school district must maintain pursuant to this section is not one hundred, but rather is equal to a pro-rated share of one hundred based upon the number of grades offered within the school district.”

“We are a special school with a special circumstance, so we came up with a special bill that based on our “K” through eight enrollment. That would mean we are responsible for nine-thirteenths, so that gives us a lower bottom number to deal with,” Rep. John Wiik R-Big Stone City said.

Rep. Fred Deutsch is the prime sponsor of the bill. He says he has seen a lot of positive feedback from the legislature.

“I have about 50 legislatures that I was able to have personally sign up to co-sponsor the bill, so that's a really good feeling right there,” Rep. Deutsch said.

Overall the goal of the bill is to keep these small town schools near the border alive. Rep. Wiik says he expects the outcome of the Bill to be determined in roughly 2 weeks.