Rapid City Area Schools will close Canyon Lake Elementary School at the end of the 2023-2024 school year, the Board of Education decided Tuesday, after facing backlash from the community over a previous proposal that would have closed the school this year.
In a 6-1 vote, the board amended a resolution calling for the closure of the school — delaying it until the end of next school year. The lone no vote was Board member Jim Hansen. Canyon Lake Elementary West was built in 1949 and has suffered through years of infrastructure problems.
Several members of the Canyon Lake Elementary Parent Teacher Organization attended the meeting and brought concerns forward during a special public comment section. Those opposing the immediate closure of the school claimed the board did not follow the typical process that would have given parents and teachers earlier notice.
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Board member Jamie Clapham acknowledged the mishandling of how the district released information to the public about the impending closure.
"The timeline of when this information was released and the way it was communicated to the general public was inadequate and unacceptable," Clapham said. "We can do better and we will do better."
Though recognizing poor communication, Board President Kate Thomas said, the closure of Canyon Lake Elementary is not new. Since her joining in 2015, she said the board might have discussed the topic eight times.
She cited a board meeting on Dec. 14, 2021 where then-superintendent Dr. Lori Simon and then-Director of Facilities Kumar Veluswamy gave an in-depth presentation on the failing infrastructure of Canyon Lake Elementary and the need to close it.
"The [infrastructure issues] went on and on. It wasn't little pieces that needed to be fixed. That was in some of us board members' heads a year and a half ago," Thomas said. "There needed to be more notification and we're sorry about that, but we are not going to kick this can down the road any longer."
Interim Superintendent/CEO Nicole Swigart presented the audience a dataset that showed the cost of the most immediate projects needed for Canyon Lake to be operational for another 2-5 years. The number would be almost $3 million.
Swigart hired as superintendent
Later in the meeting, with a unanimous vote, Swigart was named the district's newest permanent superintendent.
Board member Michael Birkeland said the communication about the selection process was not shared in the best way. He said the decision to not hire a superintendent search firm was in the best fiscal interest of the school district, and that changed from how previous superintendent selections were done.
The district is legally limited on what they can and cannot say about the selection process, Birkeland said, but agreed the board's vision on hiring a permanent superintendent was not communicated well.
The Board of Education did not disclose how many other applicants there were for the superintendent position, other than Swigart.
Swigart gave her first report in the new role, providing an update on ongoing projects, the district's strategic plan, and how the district's administration will look in the future.
According to Swigart, the construction of South Middle School is 30% complete. There are many paraprofessional job openings in the district, she said, and the district has been actively recruiting other positions as well.
However, Swigart said many of those decisions are pending the Legislative session, which is scheduled to end Thursday. She said the district will have a better idea on what the budget will look like after that.
The district will also be posting the permanent position of assistant superintendent for next school year. Mike Talley has held the position in an interim capacity this year. Swigart said the college and career readiness program has been absorbed into the district's Teaching, Learning and Innovation Department and they will be looking for a manager for the program. She also said the district is looking for a construction planning and projects manager.
The college and career readiness program, as well as facilities, were previously director-level positions. The school district eliminated the director positions in a reduction in force last month.
The board will meet for a special study session at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday on evidence-based learning and student behavior issues throughout the district. The next regular school board meeting will be at 5:30 p.m. March 21 at the Rapid City Education Center.