In the face of an upcoming opt-out, Yankton school board members expressed frustration with proposed 0% increase for school funding, and turned to a District 18 legislator for answers Monday night.
Sen. Craig Kennedy (D-Yankton) addressed the school board to discuss the upcoming legislative session and answer questions. Reps. Ryan Cwach and Jean Hunhoff were not in attendance.
Kennedy arrived with the governor’s budget book in hand and was prepared to talk about the proposed 0% increase to the student aid formula offered by Noem last week. But began by saying he couldn’t predict what would happen with the budget, only that education would be a significant focus of some of the legislators.
“There is additional funding proposed for special education,” he said. “As far as the increased funding that helps school districts keep their obligation to continue to try to raise teacher salaries, the governor’s budget doesn’t propose any money.”
The budget books were passed out to legislators after the governor’s budget address, he said.
“This is just an overview,” Kennedy said. “As you go through, you will see the budget requests and budget recommendations for each of the state agencies, but you don’t get into the details of why the numbers are what they are agency by agency, program by program.”
A large part of the job of the legislative appropriators, like Rep. Hunhoff, is to examine the data for each different agency and dig down into why the numbers are what they are, he said.
“The Legislature will ultimately determine what budget they choose to pass, and the budget numbers can be kind of fluid, because the budget in South Dakota is based on projected revenue,” Kennedy said. “It’s our constitutional obligation to make sure that our expenditures are equal to our revenue, but the only way that we can predict the revenue for fiscal year 2021 is by projecting what we think is going to happen.”
Those projections can change.
“There were at least two years where the projections that we had at the time of the governor’s budget address changed,” Kennedy said. “We had higher projected revenues into the session, so that the budget — where there might have been a zero increase for something — we were able to provide an increase,” Kennedy said.
There is a move afoot on the part of some legislators to do a serious examination of the Department of Education and of testing and test scores, he said, concluding his presentation and opening up the discussion to questions from the board.
“My concern, basically, is how come education and social programs always get short shrift from the Legislature?” Board member Terry Crandall asked. “Why can’t the budget be such that it meets the needs of the people of South Dakota, rather than the assembly saying, ‘We don’t have the money; we can’t do it’? How about finding the money so we can do it?”
The educational system can only go so long on short shrift, Crandall said, expressing his frustration with the situation.
In the wake of the 2008 recession, South Dakota public schools received a net 6.5% cut in overall funding and a 0% increase one year.
When South Dakota was ranked 51st in teacher pay nationally, the Legislature passed a law requiring that the education budget be increased each year by 3% or the rate of inflation, whichever is lowest.
Even so, last year, the Legislature approved only a 1% increase in school funding
Many in education are frustrated.
“We need to stop looking at things like the bathrooms and who’s in the bathroom, and stop looking at things like what schools or which test scores are going on,” Crandall said. “We need to do more in terms of actually helping our students learn in South Dakota, and be inspired to stay in South Dakota, because we have a strong education system, such they want to bring up their kids in this state.”
Other board members express similar frustrations, as did Yankton School District (YSD) Superintendent Wayne Kindle.
“I feel like nearly every year that I can remember in my short tenure as a superintendent, we are right back at the same discussion: expected low revenue, the economy, the list goes on,” Kindle told the Press & Dakotan. “At least for the last eight, there’s been some kind of surplus. I saw a number the other day, I don’t have the exact figure, but I think in the last eight years, approximately, there’s been well over $100 million put back in reserves at the state level. A portion of that could be very helpful in school funding.”
He recommends that school district leaders and legislators have a discussion about school funding, as well as the Legislature’s agreement to cover the cost of inflation each year.
Now, many school districts are struggling financially. Some have tried unsuccessfully to increase school funding through a tax-levy opt-out vote.
The YSD is no exception.
With two failed opt-outs in its recent past, YSD is planning to seek an opt-out early next year, the details of which were also discussed at Monday’s meeting.
The timetable presented at the meeting for an opt-out is as follows:
• A special school board meeting to consider the opt-out resolution has been set for Jan.2, 2020, at noon at the YSD Administration Building (2410 W. City Limits Rd.)
• After an opt-out resolution is approved by the board, absentee voting may begin Jan. 3 at 7 a.m. in the YSD administration building. Voting hours would be from 7 a.m.-5:30 p.m.
• Absentee voting ends the day before the public vote, Feb. 10, at 5 p.m.
• According to statute, the deadline for voter registration for the opt-out vote would be Jan. 27.
• A public vote for the opt-out would take place on Feb. 11 from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. at the Yankton City Hall at 416 Walnut St.; Fire Station No. 2 at 201 W. 23rd St. and the YSD Administration building at 2410 W. City Limits Rd.
Also at Monday’s meeting:
• Melanie Ryken, principal of Webster Elementary School, and several Webster fifth graders told the board about events going on at the school, including a spelling bee and the creation of a Little Free Library for the school, made by one of the fifth graders.
• Yankton High School Activities Director Ryan Mors showed a time lapse video of the new Bucks and Gazelles mural on the west wall of the high school gym painted by Dave Fuller, visual arts instructor at Parker High School, and funded by the Yankton High School Booster Club.
• The board approved the Yankton High School Course catalog for the 2020-2021 school year.
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