Opt-Out Sought

Yankton School District Superintendent Wayne Kindle addresses residents at a public information meeting Wednesday regarding an upcoming opt-out proposal. 

The Yankton School District (YSD) is proposing a four-year $1.85 million opt-out.

The YSD kicked off the opt-out process Wednesday evening at the Yankton High School (YHS) theater with the first of eight meetings aimed at informing the public regarding district finances now and over the next few years.

The money from the opt-out would go to addressing issues such as: safety, mental health, academics and facilities, as indicated by resident survey responses.

YSD Superintendent Wayne Kindle reviewed those survey results in detail during Wednesday’s meeting.

YSD will propose adding another school resource officer (SRO) in FY ’21 and, in FY ’22, another counselor at Yankton Middle School to better address the mental wellness of its students.

“We have one school counselor for about 600-plus kids and it’s not enough,” Kindle said. “There are a lot of challenges for (school) kids today and we have had a lot of kids with mental-wellness issues in this district. It’s not just Yankton; it’s across the country. Mental wellness (issues) among young people are on the rise, and I think we have a responsibility to help those kids.”

YSD currently has a half-time curriculum director/half-time elementary integrationist. In the interests of continuing to address academic needs, YSD proposes to have one full-time curriculum director and a full-time elementary integrationist.

Money would also go to replenishing the depleted general fund.

Kindle cited several accomplishments made by the school district in the last few years, including the addition of a preschool program free to all school district residents, free in-town bussing, a partnership with the Boys & Girls Club that offers a safe place for students to go after school, the high school internship program and the addition of Future Farmers of America (FFA) classes at YHS.

In order to provide these benefits for students, YSD has been spending down its funds.

“Here’s where we are at financially. By FY ’23, we will have about a $1.85 million shortfall,” Kindle said. “Not only that, but the general fund reserves will be nearly depleted, and that’s not sustainable.”

Administrators stated Wednesday that they expect to bring the request for an opt-out resolution to the Yankton school board at a special meeting on Jan. 2, and foresee taking the issue to a public vote as early as Feb 11.

A successful opt-out would signal voter approval for opting out of state-set property tax limits for a specific dollar amount and for a set number of years, and would go into effect with the 2021 tax year.

“In terms of dollars/1,000, we would see levy rates for ag at $0.41/$1,000; homeowners would be $0.93/$1,000 and commercial property would be $1.92/$1,000,” said YSD Business Manager Jason Bietz. “That is for the full 1.85 ask. In future years, if it doesn’t end up being that much, those levies would, of course, come down.”

He notes that levy rates would come down if Yankton’s taxable valuation increased.

“If you own $100,000 worth of ag value, that would come to about $41.40 a year or $3.45 a month; a $100,000 home would be about $92.50 total for the year above and beyond what is already on the tax bill,” Bietz said. “Commercial would be $191.50, or $15.96 a month (for $100,000 worth of commercial value).”

In terms of levy rates, Yankton now ranks second lowest for tax rates among schools of similar size, he noted, adding that a successful opt-out would not greatly lower that rank in comparison to those other districts.

“I think the important thing to take away from this slide is that there are people in this school district who think that Yankton is taxed heavily,” Kindle said. “We are not when we compare ourselves to these other schools. We are the second lowest taxed school among all these large ESD schools in South Dakota, right on the heels of Mitchell.”

According to the YSD annual report data for the 2017-18 school year, the last year compiled by the state, Yankton ranks 128 out of a total of 149 school districts in per-student spending.

“The highest ranking cost-per-student school is Elk Mountain, as of the ‘17-‘18 school year; the lowest cost ranking is Tea Area, and Yankton is not far above that,” Bietz said. “Yankton is ranked very favorably in terms of spending efficiency.”

The last opt-out was brought to a vote in February 2012. It was proposed for up to $1.4 million, for two years, and it was voted down 58 to 42 percent, with 32 percent voter turnout.

———

Additional public-input meetings are scheduled for:

• Oct. 30 at the YHS theater from 6-7 p.m.

• Nov. 13 at the Webster Elementary School Gym from 6-7 p.m.

• Nov. 19 at the Beadle Elementary School Gym from 6-7 p.m.

• Dec. 3 at the Stewart Elementary School Gym from 6-7 p.m.

• Dec. 4 at the Lincoln Elementary School Gym from 6-7 p.m.

• Dec. 11 at the Yankton Middle School theater from 6-7 p.m.

• Dec. 18 at the YHS theater from 6-7 p.m.

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