HB 1258 benefits most South Dakota students

HB 1258 benefits most South Dakota students by Elaine Roberts, SDEA president The opponents of HB 1258 would like nothing better than to start a war between small schools and larger schools. Misinformation without the reality and facts of what HB 1258 does has already hit the papers and been part of discussions. As HB 1258 made its way through the Legislature, many changes were made. The original House version which passed 48-20, took away the small school factor for school districts with fund balances above 45 percent and redistributed the dollars to school districts with fund balances below 25 percent. The Coalition of Small Schools indicated they wanted to keep the small school factor but were willing to live with some kind of cap on balances.

When the bill reached the Senate, several changes were made during the Thursday and Friday before the bill passed the Senate in its current form. Those changes were the result of hard work and compromise. HB 1258 is a good "first step" for several reasons.

First, nearly 90 percent of the students in South Dakota attend schools with reserves below 45 percent. Most, if not all of those schools (small and large) will benefit from the passage of HB 1258.

Second, HB 1258 includes $3.2 million dollars of declining enrollment money that will be distributed to all schools (small and large) on top of the 3 percent formula increase that is included in the budget adopted by the Legislature. This was a goal of the Invest in Education Coalition.

Third, the issue of reserves has been used as an excuse for not properly funding education for the last three legislative sessions (including this one). Passage of HB 1258 finally puts the issue behind us so that we can have meaningful discussions of the funding needs of South Dakota schools.

Fourth, HB 1258 sets the allowable fund balances at 20 percent, which penalizes some districts. However, 20 percent is exactly the allowable balance that was in effect prior to 1995 when the Legislature repealed that mandate along with hundreds of other mandates. Schools lived with a 20 percent balance prior to 1995, why can't they live with it now?

Fifth, 12 of the 25 school districts that have fund balances below 20 percent are small schools that will not only see increased funding, but will benefit from the small school factor. Nineteen of the 35 schools with fund balances between 20 percent and 30 percent are small schools. The size of the school doesn't determine how large the reserve balance is.

Sixth, the language of HB 1258 speaks to un-obligate reserves. The bill excludes dollars raised through an opt-out election and several other items from the reserve calculation. We respectively submit that if a school is worried about losing money as a result of the provisions of HB 1258 SDEA negotiators are more than willing to help that school obligate some of the reserve to badly needed salary improvements.

Finally, ask questions and seek the facts. Don't fall into the trap of blaming and attacking people and organizations. Rather focus your energy on attacking the problems in a positive way � the problems of under-funding, the ability to offer quality programs to meet the needs of all students and attracting and keeping teachers.

SDEA does and will continue to represent teachers and support personnel in public schools of all sizes in South Dakota. And we will seek to be problem solvers for the tough issues facing public education in South Dakota.

Elaine Roberts is in her third term as president of the South Dakota Education Association/NEA, Pierre. She is a special education teacher on leave from her classroom position in Sioux Falls School District.

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