Many needs are being met at Hill City schools

By Jeff Smith

Robert Aquino grabs a food tray on April 16 as food service professionals Emma Novotny and Roxann DuBois prepares for more students to come.

There are a lot of good things happening in the school district even amidst the different resignations and discussions about committees forming.

Roxann DuBois, food service director for Hill City, was excited to share the breakfast program is still going strong.

When the breakfast program was coming around she did a presentation about it to the school board. Mike Welu took notice and decided to help out with a donation of $5,000.

“That is why right now now we have breakfast for a buck,” DuBois said.

She said that is the reason why there is really good participation.

There is about $2,000 of the Welu’s donation remaining.

Another type of program is the Angel Fund which helps takes care of meal costs for families who need a helping hand. It is was started five years ago and used for when there is a negative balance on a children’s account. The Angel Fund has taken away a huge stumbling block for families.

“It’s a big deal and it’s so awesome that we live in this community where people take care of these kids,” DuBois said.

Some families also aren’t able to get their free and reduced meals application in on time.

“If a family is already in financial distress they shouldn’t be hounded over getting it in late,” DuBois said.

She said there is a huge hurdle for families to ask for help with the application. DuBois herself has went in to homes to help families fill it out.

A Child and Adult Nutrition Services representative also spoke with elementary school teachers and was able to observe the breakfast time in the classrooms. DuBois said Hill City School District is leading the charge in feeding breakfast to children  and the breakfast expansion program has been a pilot program for the state. DuBois has applied for two grants for the food services program. One is specifically for middle school students and the other one is for K-12 students.

Aimee Peyregne, business manager for the school district, Angie Ross, school board member and DuBois recently went to a National Association of Federally Impacted Schools (NAFIS) conference to get educated about Impact Aid.

They set up private meetings with Senator John Thune’s aide and Representative Kristi Noem to talk about the needs of the school district and how the current school funding formula is hurting the district.

Ross said ever school district in the West River South Dakota region is going to be hurting and making cuts if cuts haven’t already been made.

“We took a point to not only educate ourselves and keep ourselves educated about Impact Aid since we do receive a lot of money from it,” Ross said.

According to an article that was published last week in the Prevailer, in the 2016-17 year, $600,000 of impact aid reserve dollars were used to balance the budget. It is currently forecast that the school district will use $700,000 in impact Aid to balance the 2017-18 budget.

In recent years the program has persisted at some level of funding. According to the Capital Journal, the amounts awarded to the school districts and percentage of funding that is eventually budgeted depends on Congressional politics. One Impact Aid program deals with funding issues in districts where military bases are located, and another that deals with funding issues for districts where there are federal lands that aren’t occupied by residential facilities.

Hill City is right in the middle of federal lands.  The federal lands Impact Aid program is a $67 million program.

DuBois said she didn’t realize how hard people have to fight for schoolchildren.

“It was amazing to bring Hill City to Washington to say this is our community,this is our school, how can you help us?”

Noem made a point to her that there are formulas that are made in Washington D.C. too and sometimes there are outliers or exceptions to the rule that are affected in a negative way.

Chip Franke, Hill City Elementary School principal, spoke about OverDrive which is a program where students can digitally plug into the state library and download books onto laptops.

For a designated time of the day students can download books that they are interested in and ones that might be outside of their reading level. It costs the district $1 per student at the elementary school.

“Most of the year we have been second to only Mitchell in terms of books checked out at the state library,” Franke said.

He said that Mitchell has several buildings and they are measured at K-12 while in Hill City it is just at the elementary level.

Right now they are third in the state. Mitchell School District has had just over 1,000 books checked out, Tea Area School District is at 765 and Hill City Elementary School is at 752.

“Our teachers do a fantastic job at encouraging our kids to read,” Franke said.