For many school districts, the COVID-19 pandemic has been stressful enough, but a pair of districts that lie between Bismarck and Minot have a whole new set of problems.

While the coronavirus pandemic has stolen the headlines and is on everyone’s mind, here in the Underwood School District in McLean County they’ve got one eye on 2022.

That’s the year the Coal Creek Power Station is scheduled to cease operation.

A devastating blow to communities between the Capital and Magic cities.

KX News sat down Tuesday morning with Superintendent Brandt Dick about the challenges that come with planning a school year with so much uncertainty on the horizon.

“You’re looking ahead with your budget and in the back of your mind you’re thinking, OK, what are some ways that I can be more efficient in running our school district? Let’s try to figure out ways that we can maintain our quality education without asking our taxpayers to come up with a lot more money to run our school the way it’s being run right now,” said Dick.

The district did a study not long ago showing if the plant closed, they could lose around 60 students, and in a district with just 200, that’s quite a chunk of funding.

“Right now our funding formula is based on per-student, and so a rough estimate would be we’d be losing about, 60 kids times 10,000 a kid, so you’re looking at about $600,000 less that we’d have to make due,” said Dick.

The Underwood district isn’t the only district along the Highway 83 corridor that lies in the shadow of the Coal Creek Power Station. About 10 miles to the south lies the Washburn district and school leaders KX News spoke with tell us they have many of the same concerns and worries about the uncertainties of the plant’s future.

Brad Rinas is the Superintendent in Washburn and oversees around 340 students and says while their attention is keeping students safe right now, they know what lies ahead.

“We have approximately 65 students who have either one or both parents or guardians employed either at GRE or Falkirk Mine. We have a lot of others whose parents have some type of a job that directly is affected by that as well because they drive a truck or there’s something else that they do,” said Rinas.

He adds over the last 10 years his district has been slowly growing and they’ve added teachers as well as popular programs. Now that’s all in jeopardy.

“You can lose students and you’re gonna lose foundation aid, but at the same time, even if you’re committed to offering programs you have to have kids there to take those programs and it effects those when you can’t do that,” said Rinas.

Both men add the news has already made an already thin pool of potential new hires even thinner because of all the uncertainty.

Great River Energy says unless a buyer is found, they will shut the plant sometime in the second half of 2022.