Vermillion School opt-out fails by David Lias At Monday's meeting of the Vermillion School Board, Superintendent Bob Mayer noted that he would be speaking with the entire staff of the school district Wednesday morning.
He would share either good news or bad news.
After the results of the Vermillion School District1s opt-out election were tallied Tuesday night at the Clay County Courthouse, Mayer knew he had to prepare his "bad news" speech.
Voters overwhelmingly rejected the Vermillion School Board1s request to opt-out of the state1s property tax freeze.
"I think that the point I'll make with the school staff Wednesday is that we have to carry on," Mayer said. "We're extremely disappointed that we weren1t able to convince the people that we serve that we have a great school district and that it would have been a good investment to allow us to carry on in some manner."
The opt-out measure, which needed a simple majority to pass, received 610 votes from citizens who supported it.
A substantial greater number of people – 872 – cast ballots against the measure.
Only 17 percent of eligible voters in the school district visited the polls Tuesday.
Nearly 59 percent of the voters were against the opt-out. Approximately 41 percent favored ending the property tax freeze for the Vermillion School District.
A majority of residents from the Southeast Ward who cast ballots Tuesday supported the opt-out, with 323 voting in favor of the measure and 303 against.
Voters in the Northeast/Rural wards gave a big thumbs-down to the opt-out idea, with 275 people voting against it and 108 voting favorably.
The opt-out fared just about as well in the Northwest/Central wards. The measure was defeated with 294 people voting against it and 179 people casting votes in support of the opt-out.
"We'll have to keep educating our young people – we can't quit," Mayer said. "We'll have to work very closely together and we have some tough times coming, I think. It may not all be in one year. It may be over a couple years, but unless that state Legislature does some things to fix this problem, it's going to be difficult."
The Vermillion School Board unanimously agreed last June to opt-out of the state property tax freeze in the amount of $600,000 annually for a five year period.
They also agreed, unanimously, to not force the patrons in the school district to bring the matter to a public vote.
The board itself referred the issue to Tuesday's vote.
Had the opt-out been approved, the real estate taxes on a $100,000 home in the school district would increase by approximately $153 annually.
An owner of agricultural property valued at $100,000 would have paid $95 more in taxes per year. The taxes on a piece of commercial property in the school district would have risen by approximately $328.
Mayer said it1s too early for the the Vermillion School Board to take any immediate action that would have an effect on the school1s general fund.
"The board likely will wait to see what the South Dakota Legislature does about education funding before taking action," he said. "We don't expect them to solve this. They may make it better, so there is less to cut. They may make it worse, too.
"Discussions will take place before that time, and we1ll have to see what those discussions bring," he said.
Mayer said the opt-out1s failure likely means that the school board will need to consider increasing class sizes and make cuts in high school elective programs, co-curriculars, personnel and transportation to reduce general fund expenditures.
"We've cut as much non-personnel stuff as we can," Mayer said. "We've done about as much attrition and things with staff as we know that1s available to do."
Mayer said the opt-out measure may have failed because citizens still remember a time of financial turmoil seven years ago.
At that time, the district was under the direction of a different superintendent and school board. An opt-out request was made and rejected, and shortly afterwards, a large sum of money was discovered in a district reserve fund.
"I also believe it was hard for some people to afford this," Mayer said. "I think it was a big problem for farmers and for retired people on a limited income. And these things are hard to sell because they are hard to understand. It1s easier to sell a building project, because you can see what you1re going to get."
Several school districts in South Dakota often make repeat attempts, with lesser dollar amounts, to win voter approval after an opt-out measure fails.
Mayer doesn't see the Vermillion School Board making another try at an opt-out in the future, however.
"It would have to come from the people – that this is what the people want," he said. "I think the cuts will have to be made, whatever they are going to be, and how much it is going to be.
"The board has said all along 'We want the public to tell us what to do," Mayer said. "We cut approximately $1.2 million, and we wanted to know what the people want, and the people have said that they want us to cut more."