Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Last Hurrah for a Rural School

Controlled Burn:  Older section of school
There were no girls in the senior class of 1987, forcing Humboldt-St. Vincent to do without a homecoming queen. Things improved this year, when all three girls in the class vied for the honor.

Classes don't come any smaller than in Humboldt-St. Vincent. It's a school with 65 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, including one fourth-grader. The average grade has five students.

That's too small for state officials, who see nothing romantic about the arrangements and are happy that the school district is finally ready to close shop. For Education Commissioner Gene Mammenga, the tiny school in Kittson County is a prime example of public education gone awry.

Humboldt-St. Vincent, 410 miles northwest of the Twin Cities, ranks as the state's smallest K-12 school district and spends $11,381 each year to educate a single student. That's the highest of any K-12 district in Minnesota and more than twice the state average. A state study called the spending astronomical.

Moreover, the district holds classes in an 85-year-old school that violates state codes and is faced with a financial crisis after piling up debt for four years. A lack of money and students makes it difficult to offer many electives.

"It's a waste of money, but more important than that, it's a waste of human potential, with young people who had a limited academic experience," Mammenga said.

Those are fighting words for those who farm the flat, rich land of the Red River Valley.

"Typical bureaucrat sitting in the white ivory towers, totally removed from the realities of rural America," said Humboldt Mayor Curtis Miller, who grows wheat, barley and sugar beets on 2,100 acres. "The way of life in rural America is very sacred to us."

That's why these are sad days in Humboldt, where farmers need rain and school ends for good on May 30. It's the end of a long era that began in 1882, when the district was created.