Southland issues are not unique

The current, often controversial issue about whether or not to close the Southland Elementary School is not new — not by a long shot.

While every district is unique by identity, the issues facing Southland are very real, very painful — and very common in the rural areas. Anyone believing otherwise, or who wants to make this about a clash of personalities or some hidden agenda, is just not doing their homework.

While school funding is complex — believe me, I’ve covered education for almost 40 years, and I know this well — the bottom line is quite simple: Smaller districts are running out of money because they have fewer students. Since districts are funded based on enrollments, there are really only two ways to stop the drain: You find a way to attract students or cut costs.

The Southland School Board, whose members are remarkably well educated on finance issues from what I have witnessed, face no easy choice. Either they close Rose Creek school and move the students to Adams, or cut programs and staff.

When they meet Monday evening, I would suggest a few things:

Don’t cloud the issue: Closing Rose Creek school, many say, will cause the death of the Rose Creek community. Larger farms, fewer family farms, combined with smaller farm families has eroded our small communities. If the Rose Creek school closes, it is symptomatic of what has been happening in our rural communities for years, not the other way around. This issue is difficult enough without placing blame for a town’s demise on top of it.

Think outside school boundaries: The world is not waiting for Southland School District to make up its mind, one way or the other. Careers are being created almost hourly across the globe, demanding well-educated, think-outside-the-box kids, ready to succeed vocationally and professionally. You need to provide them with the tools to live in this world.

Don’t invoke “the Good Old Days:” It’s fine to stroll down memory lane, but the fact is, education — and what it requires – has changed dramatically in just the last 20 years. Technology is no longer a luxury, it’s a requirement; both vocational and upper level education courses are as important as they have ever been.

Listen and learn: Funding for education is based on an old formula that in the era of declining enrollment is not, frankly, getting the job done. Too many schools struggle to provide for students.  The following is an excerpt from a 2017 Pioneer Press editorial, and I think it’s fitting:

“ … a recent commentary by CEO Pat Ryan of the Ryan Companies, representing the millionaire members of the Minnesota Business Partnership, claimed the problems facing public education were ‘not a money problem.’

“Educators disagree. Many of us shared what’s happening in our schools recently after a skeptical state senator tweeted, ‘How much education funding is enough?’ Here’s a sample of the responses:

‘Enough so I don’t have to have 31 students and two grade levels in one elementary class. Enough so we can have copy paper to last all year.’

‘Teachers not spending their own money on supplies — or buying food to fill hungry tummies.’

‘Enough to cover the cost of Band-Aids (have to buy my own.)’

‘Having middle school class sizes of 35+ is proof of ‘Not enough.’”

Parents have traditionally been those who only get involved in education issues — but what happens in our schools affects an entire community. Maybe it is time for you to talk to legislators, write letters or stand up at town halls to make your voice heard.

As long as you can keep up the drumbeat being heard, the better chance we all have for connecting to new ideas and 21st century.

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