School Funding And ‘Dangerous Shifts’

District 18 Reps. Bernie Hunhoff, left, and Mike Stevens discuss educational issues during a legislative overview held with the Yankton school board Monday night.

According to District 18 legislator Bernie Hunhoff, school officials should not expect much to change regarding school funding in the upcoming legislative session. He warned that more than likely any change in school funding will have to be done by the people of the state through grass-root initiated measures.

Hunhoff’s comments, made at Monday’s monthly meeting of the Yankton School Board, highlighted what would be a nearly 40-minute question-and-answer session between the board, Hunhoff (D) and Rep. Mike Stevens (R). Distrist 18 legislator Jean Hunhoff (R) did not attend the meeting.

Stevens said the board needs to stay vigilant in the efforts to keep school funding at the forefront of the upcoming legislative session.

“You are starting to see an impact on the state in regards to teachers — the number of teachers that are available,” Stevens said. “Our state is surrounded by states that are paying a lot more in teachers’ salaries. We are starting to see the consequences of that and it is only going to get more severe as we move forward. The real important part you have to play is to keep the heat on in Pierre. As you know, there were real important parts of the problem that were not addressed in the governor’s budget address. So, there is still time to talk about the issues and keep them to the forefront so they get looked at.”

Hunhoff concurred, advising the board to take every opportunity to contact not only the District 18 legislators, but also others in state government to help make sure that discussions about education are being held.

He noted that he was very disappointed that governor Daugaard didn’t address school funding and teacher salaries in the budget address delivered last week. Hunhoff also commented the way to address the shortfall in the general fund budgets may begin with one-time use monies to get the state through this period of budget issues. He predicted that there would be more than one school funding related initiated measure on the ballot in 2016.

“There is some urgency to this, we have to get something figured out,” Hunhoff cautioned. “Right now there are parents out there trying to decide where they want to raise and educate their children. Parents are making that decision, but so are business owners. Business owners are looking at the state as a potential place to operate their business and they are looking at the state wondering if they are going to be able to attract enough employees to the state because of the state of our education system.”

Stevens said using one time money can tide the state over, but it will not alleviate the problem, which he called a “reverse opt-out” at the state level. He also noted with the election, there will again be a feeling out portion of the legislative session to see where everyone stands regarding the issues.

“We just reshuffled the deck, so to speak,” he said. “I haven’t got a feel yet for where the caucus is going to stand. There are a lot of issues out there, and not everyone is focused on education. Those other issues may take attention away from education. I really believe it is going to come down the Appropriations Committee. They will be huge.”

Hunhoff warned, based on what he is seeing at the state level, there is a very dangerous, intentional shift moving the costs of education to the local property tax owners.

“This is not just in education, but education is where you can see it most clearly,” he said. “I truly believe the state is risking another lawsuit, and the reason they chose to redo the small school formula is to equalize and neutralize that lawsuit. It is a very dangerous shift.”

Hunhoff added, in the past the state funded education at a rate of more than 40 percent of the costs. Currently, they are funding at a rate less than 30 percent, transferring those additional costs to the property tax payers in the state. He noted a discussion is percolating on how the property tax is applied specific to agricultural land, as well.

Superintendent Wayne Kindle asked the legislators if they were aware of the predicted teacher shortages for South Dakota. He said the Associated School Boards of South Dakota is predicting a teacher shortage of more than 700 teachers in the next two years.

“We have the second highest base salary rate in the state,” Kindle said. “That is something to be proud of. If we, with the second highest rate of pay in the state are having a hard time finding qualified teachers, what does that say for the rest of the state? We can’t find teachers. We kept saying it was going to come to a critical point, well, we are at that critical point now. The day has come. Pierre needs to know we are in for some trouble here.”

Following the board meeting Kindle said he felt the board had a good discussion with the legislators and he hoped they recognized the three main concerns of the Yankton School District.

“I think we all have a concern about the shortage of teachers and we know that is tied to teacher pay and a lot of other things,” he said. “Another thing we are concerned about is the movement in the discussion about capital outlay and that they are thinking about changing that. It certainly affects us as well as all other school districts.

“The third thing I would like to have more of a discussion about is a long-term sustainable plan for funding our schools. I think, as educators, we need to come up with what is adequate funding and how are we going to define that; not only for ourselves, but for our tax payers and community. I would really like to be part of that kind of discussion.”

One discussion not covered in the meeting was the governor’s proposal to change how the small school factor is applied. Moving it from 100 percent state funded to the same rate as the general fund. Kindle said he had no issue with the schools who do receive the additional funding, but that he hoped the legislature would look at the schools they are leaving out.

“We are one of about 40 districts in the state which does not receive any small school funding,” he said. “What I would like to happen, is for the legislators take a good look at that, and if other schools need that funding, see that so does Yankton. We have a structural deficit, which we have made no effort to hide. But, if the small school factor is going to apply to the majority of the school districts, why can’t it apply to a school like Yankton?”

Other items addressed by the board during Monday’s meeting included:

• Hearing a report from all the building principals regarding the first year of the district’s five-year strategic plan;

• Hearing a report on the Boys and Girls Teen Court program;

• Updating the school complaint policy;

• Updating the Yankton High School course catalog;

• Receiving a first draft of an agreement between the Boy’s and Girls’ Club and YSD on a land share agreement at the Yankton Middle School; and,

• Hearing an update on the school resource officer.

Follow Shauna Marlette on Twitter @shaunamarlette. To comment on this story go to www.yankton.net.

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