School funding dominates forum District 17 Rep. Judy Clark (left) of Vermillion, listens as District 17 Sen. John "Joe" Reedy reads sales tax data at a legislative forum before local educators Monday night in Beresford. by David Lias A crisis in South Dakota education isn't looming on the horizon, according to local school administrators, teachers and school board members.
It's already here.
"I think we have or we're nearing a crisis in education," said John Pedersen, superintendent of the Beresford School District. "When you look at the 50 year olds that are (teaching) in our school systems, and what we're going to have to replace in the next decade, it's scary."
Pedersen was one of approximately 60 local school administrators, teachers and school board members who attended a leglislative forum Monday night in Beresford.
The meeting, hosted by the Southeast Area Cooperative at Beresford High School, was designed to let local school districts give their input to lawmakers on a variety of issues that may be of concern in the 2001 legislative session.
Participants were given a sheet listing approximately a dozen different issues that could be brought up for discussion at the meeting.
The panel of local legislators and the audience spent approximately two-thirds of the forum's time, however, talking about one major issue � money.
Pedersen said South Dakota can't continue to do business as it traditionally has. "There is no state greater than South Dakota at providing a good education for just a few dollars," he said. "I don't think we can continue doing this."
Pedersen noted that citizens who campaigned for the repeal of the video lottery this fall stated that South Dakota could raise $50 million in one year with a half-cent increase in the sales tax.
That $50 million could be used to boost the pay of every South Dakota teacher by $5,000.
"Isn't education important enough?" he asked. "Don't we have a looming crisis, and don't we need to address this issue?"
Lawmakers attending the forum often cited a proposal to change the state-aid formula as one solution to low teacher pay and other funding problems facing the state's public school districts.
The state-aid formula rises annually by 3 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. A proposal in the coming session will change the increase to 3 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is greater.
District 17 Rep. Judy Clark warned educators, however, to not pin their hopes on that proposal alone.
"I think the 3 percent increase every year is too easy an answer. For instance, this coming year, with the rate of inflation that we will get automatically with the law the way it is written now is 2.9 percent," she said. "You're not going to be making a huge difference from the 3 percent that you will get from the change in the law."
Clark said she believes that increases in the amount of funds that each school district receives per pupil from the state-aid formula is a better way to insure that school systems receive more revenue.
"I think the per-pupil base was set too low in the beginning," she said. "I would like to see us try to build in any excess revenue."
She noted, however, that accomplishing that change in the formula could be challenging. The excess monies that could have been used to boost per-pupil allocations may have to be used to replace funds the state will lose from the repeal of the inheritance tax.
"To give every teacher in the state a $1,000 raise, it will cost $9.4 million," Clark said. "I'm not suggesting that's exactly what we should do, but that's just to give you an idea of what kind of money we are talking about. That would raise the per-pupil rate by about $71."
District 17 Sen. John "Joe" Reedy of Vermillion noted that data supplied to him by the Legislative Research Council in Pierre shows that various taxes, such as the state sales taxes, contractors' excise taxes, alcohol and cigarette taxes, bank franchise and insurance taxes and inheritance taxes are exceeding projections for Fiscal Year 2001.
"Currently, these taxes are running $10 million ahead their historic benchmarks through October," he said. "Further projections bring them approximately $27 million ahead for Fiscal Year 2001," Reedy said.
That means, he said, that South Dakota should have enough funds on hand to replace monies that will be lost from the state budget once the state inheritance tax is repealed.
A member of the audience from Harrisburg told lawmakers that South Dakota must find an additional revenue source to pay for education and other government functions.
"To me it seems like you're robbing Peter to pay Paul here," he said. "Until the Legislature steps up and says we're going to create a new tax, and personally I'm in favor of a state income tax, you're never going to have the money."
District 16 Rep. Mike Broderick said he could never accept an state income tax as a new revenue source.
"It would have to be a substitute revenue source," he said. "There would have to be a repeal or a rollback of our real estate property taxes or our sales taxes with a replacement being a state income tax."
Other lawmakers who participated in the forum were Sen. Ken Albers and Rep.-elect Margaret Vandermore-Gillespie of District 16; Rep.-elect B.J. Nesselhuf of District 17; and Sen Gary Moore and Rep.-elect Jean Hunhoff of District 18.