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Northwest Salmon



Sheyenne Transport LLC to bus Bearcats 171 school days

by Emre K. Erku

Tensions were heavy in the Webster Area High School gym during the evening hours of May 20 as about 50 concerned parents sat shoulder-to-shoulder on the bleachers, facing three administrators and the district’s school board members seated behind portable tables near the out-of-bounds line.

At stake were the school board’s decisions to switch back to a traditional five-day schedule, which change the past 162 day calendar to 171, as well as which bus service would transport the students for the next five years.

Comments and questions were voiced by a handful of audience members, some in favor of a four-day week, some not. Ten minutes were allotted to both sides of the argument.

Speaking first was Randy Breske.

“...Earlier this year, the board unanimously approved a four day week...” he went on to say. “...Now a change to a five-day schedule has been put on the agenda.”

During the tail end of his speech, Breske pointed out that a “black mark” would be established on the school district if a switch back to a five-day week was to be implemented.

Voicing his opinion next was Jason Snell. His contention included the fact that school calendar surveys of the past, filled out by members of the community, conveyed a four-day majority.

“There were three different surveys done – all in favor of a four-day week,” he said. “That’s what the majority of the people want. If you’re going to change back to a five-day, I want to see another survey done.”

Snell also claimed that 25 percent of schools within South Dakota have switched to a four-day calendar with results being favorable.

“The statistics prove that the four-day is working,” he said.

One counterpoint, Roslyn local Shannon Schmidt provided rebuttal in the form of another speech.

“...Have you ever heard anyone say our children are too educated when they graduated?” She soon asked the audience. “...These students are our children, they are our future. I’m here tonight because I believe I need to stand up for our education and our children’s futures.”

Lastly, soon-to-be board member Joel Shoemaker stood up, complementing Schmidt’s speech with lines such as, “We need all the children to be there to educate them,” and, “Nobody on the four-day calendar talked about education.”

Once both sides presented their arguments, it was time for the board members to provide some insight to their upcoming decision. Board member Tom Sannes took the floor.

“I’m a firm believer in a five-day week,” he announced. “For the four-day, I can buy into it for our high school kids, but our grade school kids it’s a big issue.”

Sannes went on to compare surveys distributed to southern communites during the Civil Rights Movement of the mid-20th century to the four-day questionnaires given in the Webster area, asking if it was a good question to ask Caucasian citizens of the time if they’d be in favor of having African-Americans eat at their lunch counters. It was during the last school board meeting that Sannes was completely convinced.

“‘The kids that need to be here aren’t coming,’” Sannes said, revisiting what he heard during the meeting. “That’s when my mind was made up: Last Monday.”

Of course, other members voiced their opinions as well. Superintendent and high school principal Jim Block said that he’s going to side with the calendar that’s worked for the past 80 years, and that the debate is not healthy for the community. With division within the staff, Block said, he needed to take a stand.

After one parent, Mike Dunse, took another angle with the argument, stating that there are no hard numbers and that everyone is making assumptions, board member Randy Ryan took the stand.

“On a straight four-day week, academically we were one of the top schools in the state,” he claimed.

Finally, turning down more questions and concerns, which led to some parents storming out of the gym, a vote was underway. On a 3-2 decision, the 171 day school calendar was approved for next year’s curriculum.

Bus service
Three representatives from three different bus services pitched their points to the board on why they should be picked for a new busing contract. Upon hearing their presentations, and after a 30 minute executive session, The board unanimously accepted the proposal by Sheyenne Transport LLC for $389,264.40. Figures may be subject to change.

Lastly, the board addressed supplying the new football field with a water source, however, no action was taken.

The next Webster Area School Board meeting is June 8 at 7 p.m.

Fiksdal Funeral Home

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