We can’t wait for help from the state

We can't wait for help from the state by the Plain Talk The numbers in Gov. Rounds� budget look so appealing. At first.

Print out his plans for the state�s K-12 education formula funding increase, and one sheet shows that he�s proposing a statutory 2 percent formula increase, which totals $2 million, a .6 percent increase in declining enrollment funds, which total $2.2 million, a .3 percent increase in additional state aid of $1.3 million, and a special education formula increase of $500,000.

In big, bold letters, it is announced that this totals $6 million.

It�s a tricky message written in those bold letters. It appears to be some grand announcement, a much awaited for assurance from Pierre that all of our worries about school funding are finally over.

Think again.

Six million dollars used to be big bucks. Twenty-five years ago, it was a fortune.

Today, people pulling into gas stations wouldn�t waste their time trying to win that much money playing Powerball. It is, by today�s standards, a paltry sum.

A crisis is looming in our public education system. We talked about it last spring. It�s time to talk some more.

Our K-12 enrollment has taken a slide in recent years. It peaked at 1,428 in FY98, and then began to drop. In FY2003, enrollment settled at 1,344.

The general state aid allocation to the Vermillion district has grown significantly in that time frame � from $1,765,937 in FY97, to $2,854,199 in FY2003.

So why is the school district suffering fiscal problems?

The only reason that general state aid allocations to school districts have increased in recent years is because the state had to make those increases. And they�re still inadequate.

A cash-strapped Vermillion School District hasn�t been able to put a brake on spending as it provides its students with all of the required classes and programs they need for success.

Total general fund expenditures were $5.6 million in FY97 in the district. They�ve grown every year since. In FY2003, they totaled nearly $6.6 million.

In 1990, a South Dakota student could graduate from high school with 16 credits. This year, a senior must complete 22 credits.

The list of classes required by the state board of education continues to grow. Students hoping to attend a South Dakotas university must also meet additional requirements in math and science set by the South Dakota Board of Regents.

University, college and technical school admission requirements are growing more and more stringent.

We won�t even begin to talk about No Child Left Behind. It�s sufficient to say it appears to be a lofty federal program complete with many legitimate goals but lacking in one key area � funding.

How have we reacted to all of these changes in local education?

While our school system is facing a growing number of financial challenges, we aren�t stepping up to meet them.

Our �local effort,� calculated annually to help derive the amount of state aid to the Vermillion District, has gone down, not up.

Our local effort was just over $3 million in FY97. It has declined every year since, and took one of its biggest drops a couple years ago.

It was at $2.57 million in FY 2001. In FY2002, it fell to $2.39 million, and climbed slightly in FY2003 to $2.44 million.

We have pitched in big bucks in a more indirect way. The school board has been forced to spend down the district�s general fund reserves � its �rainy day fund,� so to speak.

The reserve totaled approximately $2.5 million in FY97, and grew to $2.6 million in FY99. In FY2003, there was only $910,000 left in that fund.

Our rainy day fund is just about gone. State aid isn�t increasing at an adequate rate to keep the district�s general fund in the black for long.

What happens next is, sadly, out of the school board�s hands. They are forced to find ways to balance the district�s budget. Sure, they�ll continue to find ways to save; they�ll spend down the reserve and cut more staff.

Eventually, however, the only solution may rest with all of us. Eventually it will be time to boost our local effort by considering an opt-out of the property tax freeze.

It�s an idea that has been rejected twice by citizens in the school district in the last eight years.

It�s time for people to begin thinking of the consequences, however, of ignoring the district�s financial plight.

The Vermillion Plain Talk editorials reflect the opinion of Plain Talk editor David Lias. You may contact him at david.lias@plaintalk.net

Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>