Rounds: Challenge is

Rounds: Challenge is in finding the money Vermillion Mayor Dan Christopherson greets Gov. Mike Rounds shortly after his airplane landed at the Vermillion airport April 20 afternoon. Charlie Coyote, mascot of the University of South Dakota, USD band members, and local officials also were on hand to greet the governor, and First Lady Jean Rounds as she exited the airplane. By David Lias Gov. Mike Rounds heaped plenty of praise on Vermillion during April 20's Capital for Day activities here.

But there was at least once instance � when he was asked about funding for public education � where his words likely didn't appease everyone in the audience at the Vermillion High School auditorium, where he held a question and answer session.

He noted that 60 percent of the faculty in Vermillion Public School system have received their master's degrees.

"Vermillion students' ACT scores are consistently in the top 10 percent of all schools in the state," Rounds said. "The school of medicine at the university ranks as one of the best in the nation for rural medicine and family medicine by U.S. World and News Report."

Rounds praised Vermillion citizens for the progressive attitude towards education they demonstrated by recently opting-out of property tax limitations to provide more funding for the public school district.

An audience member noted the opt-out funds will only maintain current school offerings. It won't, she said, bring back many programs that the Vermillion School Board has been forced to cut in recent years.

"What can you do to provide enough money to school districts in South Dakota so they won�t have to resort to making cuts year after year?" the audience member asked.

Rounds noted that approximately 33 percent of South Dakota's $1.16 billion total budget goes to K-12 education. Just over half of the state's general fund goes to all education provided by the state.

Thirty one percent of the state budget is devoted to social services, he said, and 11 percent is provided to corrections and the court system.

State government, including the various bureaus and departments in Pierre, and the Legislature, uses 7 percent of the state budget.

"The challenge for us, in terms of where we can cut elsewhere, in terms of the dollars that we have, what are our two largest areas? Social services and education," Rounds said.

The governor noted that the Vermillion School District's total enrollment has dropped by 5 percent from 1999 through 2004. "But you�re getting 29 percent more state aid now than you were getting in 1999."

Rounds said he realizes that local school boards and other government entities face ever growing challenges. He told his Vermillion audience that people involved in state government in Pierre also are faced with difficult choices.

"The challenge that we have today is, with the limited number of tax dollars we have in state government, where the money should go to, and who the competing interests are," Rounds said. "The challenge is finding the money, and finding the most efficient way of delivering education that we can."

An analysis on school funding will be conducted this summer. "But to tell you today that I�ve got the answer for you about where we are going to find the extra money to put into education within out existing tax structure, I don�t see the extra dollars coming from the state in the future."

Rounds may not have been able to guarantee additional funding for education, but he's a staunch advocate of stretching each dollar as far as possible in that area.

"We can take on any challenge out there, and there's no place in the world that will work harder than we will, or smarter than we will right here," he said. "Part of that challenge is our kids need to have a good education. It means advanced mathematics. It means advanced science. It means taking the extra courses in high school and in college."

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