Between the Lines

Between the Lines By David Lias "If you build it, they will come."

The phrase, made a part of our daily language by the movie A Field of Dreams, has become a catch-phrase of today's society, a way of lending support to any major remodeling or construction project.

There's just one problem, though. A Field of Dreams was make-believe. Naturally, Kevin Costner's labors to transform an Iowa corn field into a baseball diamond were successful. We were all left with warm, fuzzy feelings at the end of the film.

The real world doesn't always work that way. A more realistic query for citizens living in the Wakonda School District to be asking themselves right now is: If we build it, will they come?

Many patrons of the Wakonda School District (maybe a majority of them, judging by the three failed school bond votes) may be hanging their hats on the rather uncertain notion that construction of a new $1.1 million K-6 addition and city/school library on the old Wakonda School will boost enrollment, ease worries of consolidation or the dissolution of the school district, and improve its financial picture.

It's been noted before in this column that, unfortunately, the Wakonda School District isn't really much different from scores of other smaller public districts across the state.

Gov. William Janklow noted in his State of the State address earlier this year that South Dakota faces "a time bomb" of demographic changes as the state's population grows older and fewer children are born in many areas of the state. He said only 49 school districts saw enrollments increase during the past five years, going up by 3,204 students, while the other 124 districts fell by 9,544 students.

The Wakonda School District is among the majority of state schools with dwindling numbers. In 1994, Wakonda's fall enrollment was 227. Every year since, the district's student numbers have declined. Last fall, the school began a new year with the fewest students it has had in seven years � 184.

We've said this before, but it bears repeating: Even with new construction at Wakonda, the ultimate solution to the community's school problems may have to be that ugly "c" word � consolidation.

All of us in South Dakota eventually will find ourselves grappling with this issue because of pure demographics.

Earlier this year, we expressed support for passage of a bond issue in Wakonda to improve its school facility. The building needs to be brought up to modern educational standards. Otherwise, no surrounding school district would want to consolidate with Wakonda in the future.

We have no doubt that Wakonda will forge ahead with plans to construct an addition to its school, despite the efforts of at least one patron who filed petitions with the school board, questioning the merits of the proposal.

Mike Lovejoy, who circulated the petitions, in many ways represents a growing number of South Dakotans who are wrestling with a dilemma as they watch the populations of their communities and public schools decline.

It sounds like there aren't too many people who agree with Lovejoy right now. We have to admit, however, that, along with raising eyebrows, he has raised awareness of a potential problem in Wakonda.

It may take more than the usual state aid and enthusiastic local community support for the Wakonda School District to survive long into the future.

Consolidation may be needed.

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