Tahlequah Daily Press

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December 20, 2006

Rural rules of schools

“Funding is a problem, and we can’t provide all the services that larger schools can,” said Skelly School Elementary Superintendent Paul Thompson.

After eight years at Skelly, Mr. Thompson knows the small school, located just outside Cherokee County in Adair County, faces obstacles larger schools may never have. But a quick look at the blessings of his campus makes the superintendent very proud of his students and staff.

Skelly School - home of the Road Runners - sets just east of State Highway 10 on Chewey Road, its district boundaries running into Cherokee County just enough to count. And, for area families, the school’s location is extremely important - the nearest “big” schools are Kansas, about 10 miles north and west, and Westville, about 18 miles south and east.

“Funding is a problem as the number of kids fluctuates,” said Thompson. “Staff is 80 to 85 percent of the cost to run a school, so when funding is lower, naturally you have to trim staff. Fortunately, we [the state] have a number of people retiring earlier. They don’t want to work full-time, but we can put them to work part-time.”

In this way, rural schools are able to keep fantastic educators in the classrooms, even if it is just a few days a week, according to Thompson.

“Little schools like this can benefit from people that are available from retirement,” he said. “Two or three little schools can share.”

Skelly currently boasts a student population of 106 - two- to three-times less than most Cherokee County rural schools - ranging from pre-kindergarten up to eighth grade. That is, however, a jump in enrollment from the previous school year.

Students also face slightly different arrangements than they would at a larger school: fifth- and sixth-grade students share one teacher the majority of a school day, as do seventh- and eighth-grade students. Third- and fourth-grade students have also been combined at one point.

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