The Hot Springs School District's administration building was packed Thursday evening for a school board meeting. After all the chairs were occupied, dozens were standing in the room for the meeting.
The meeting was an opportunity for the public to address possible cuts to the school district as the board is tasked finding a way to cut $422,000 from Hot Springs Schools' budget.
No action was taken at the meeting regarding the budget. The meeting was split into two halves, public comment and the regular school board meeting.
Last year, the district cut about $269,000 from the budget. Kevin Coles, the school superintendent, said most of this was through resignations and retirement of staff.
With regards to the consequences of the cut, he said, "It would be extremely difficult, if not impossible to cut $422,000 out of a 5.2 million dollar budget without cutting some staff."
He added, "we are working to create solutions that will have the least amount of impact on all of our students, staff and our community."
The first half of the meeting was devoted to public comment. Anyone was welcome to speak provided they fill out a form prior to the meeting. Speakers were restricted to a loose 3 minutes of talking and were barred from making specific comments about personnel.
About 15 community members took to the podium to address the cuts. They ranged from current students, Hot Springs Alumni, staff, parents and concerned community members.
Many spoke on behalf of the music and art departments, expressing the need for those programs to be maintained and adequately staffed.
Justin Gausman, a Hot Springs resident and alumnus, spoke on behalf of the music and art programs, "fine arts students learn skill they will continue to use for the entirety of their lives, (but) most importantly the arts can literally save a young person's life."
Others talked about possible cuts to the counseling programs, arguing the detrimental effect cutting counselor hours would have on the district's youth. They said counselors were an irreplaceable resource for mental health and provided much assistance when looking for opportunities after high school.
Other speakers questioned how the district got in its financial situation in the first place and wondered why they were not informed sooner about the issues. Many also advocated looking into other funding opportunities that might negate some of the budget cuts.
In the second half of the meeting, CPA, Deidre Budahl shed some light on the school districts financial issues. Budahl has worked with the district as an auditor since 2005.
She pointed out the state funding formula has changed over the past few years, adding, "it has been a detriment to West-River schools."
She stressed that Hot Springs' situation is not unique and many other schools she works with have the same problems
Budahl explained, "The reality is that the changes in the funding formula have actually decreased the funding available to the district."
Budahl went on to say that the funding formula restricts budgets in a way that prevents certain programs from having funds. She added that contacting state legislators would be the best way to voice opinions concerning future school funding decisions.
Towards the end of the meeting, superintendent Coles presented school board with a certificate for South Dakota School Board Recognition Week. He thanked board members for their service to the district and the community.