School Comments by Dr. Robert Mayer Vermillion Superintendent For the first time since 1995 South Dakota has a new governor. Mike Rounds has been sworn in as the state's new chief executive. In addition the gavel has fallen convening the 2003 Legislature.
There are always a number of issues facing lawmakers as they begin their duties. One of the main tasks this year will be the budget deficit. Another significant issue for the new Legislature will be funding K-12 education.
A new funding formula went into effect in 1996 which drastically changed the way schools are funded. In brief, this new formula prohibits schools from raising property taxes for the general fund. An increase in revenues must come from increases in the number of students or from state funding.
Increases in state funding have not been adequate. Since the 1998-1999 school year Vermillion has received a 3.3 percent increase ($169,000). This is not an annual increase but the total increase over five years. The school's employee health insurance plan increased over $130,000 (with fewer benefits) during that same five year period.
The school board has been forced to make budget cuts and spend down its reserves to fund cost increases. This scenario has been played out over the entire state and is the cause of the many opt out decisions made by school boards. Sixty-one communities have had to deal with the opt out issue.
The Vermillion school board is watching this legislative session with great interest in hopes that state funding will increase adequately to prevent an opt out for the school district. Spending reserves and making budget cuts are not a permanent solution.