Should we consolidate or shouldn't we? This is the number one question being asked all over Wakonda and Irene.When weighing the pros and cons, one often thinks about what it would be like to become one school district. But what would happen if we don't consolidate?
Q. Would Wakonda eventually run out of money and dissolve? Or Could Wakonda continue forever as is? Would we run out of money? Why would we run out of money?
A. Superintendent Johnke: The state aid formula since 1996 has been on a per-student average daily membership basis. The state has set a dollar amount per ADM. This amount was originally set based upon how much the state could afford, not what was needed to fund education.
The formula is set up so that each ADM is worth a certain dollar amount; at present that amount is $4,237. This amount is taken times the total ADM for the past year and this is the base amount to educate our students. Part of this amount is local tax dollars and the rest is state aid. Again the state sets the General Fund tax levy, and that levy is applied to a school district's taxable evaluation.
So as an example: A district has 100 ADM, you take 100 times the $4,237 which equals $423,700. That's how much we should have to educate those 100 students. If the district's local effort of taxes can raise $200,000 the state kicks in the rest as state aid or $223,700. If a district needs more money, it can opt to tax more if the voters of the district approve that additional tax.
The problems this formula causes are the following:
1. The per student amount can be raised at only the rate of inflation or 3 percent a year, which ever is less, and educational costs have exceeded that amount each year (examples are fuel costs, health insurance increases, salary increases, etc.)
2. Declining enrollments, which have hit the majority of the districts, can result in less money even with the 3 percent increase (example a loss of 10 students from the previous year means you lose $42,370 in the district of 100 students while a 3 percent increase on the remaining 90 students is $127 a student resulting in$11,430 with a net result of a $30,940 while still trying to maintain the program).
This restriction on revenue means that Wakonda cannot continue to run as it is at present. Either we cut programs and staff or we do not have enough money to pay our expenses. So your first three questions about running as we are now, definitely no, will we run out of money, yes if we do not cut. Where we run into problems is providing what the state requires and maintaining accreditation.
Q. What would happen if we dissolve our district?
A. Superintendent Johnke: The problem with dissolving, which some schools have done when they have completely financially broken themselves and lost most of their students, is they are at the mercy of the district that annexes them. Districts like Alpena who dissolved end up with nothing.
Q. How many students do we have? Why does how many students we have matter?
A. Superintendentent Johnke: Wakonda as well as other small districts are losing enrollment. We have 145 students in K-12 grades, this is down from 154 last year. The number of students is linked to funding as mentioned above. Without the proper funding, a school cannot survive.
Q. Gov. Mike Rounds talks about the optimal school size being 300 students. What is magic about this number?
A. Superintendent Johnke: The number 300 is mentioned by the state because you need about the same number of staff members for 300 students as you do for 150 students. So the funding for 300 students allows a district to do more for its students. The state maintains is more efficiently spending their money.
Q. We believe smaller is better, what will happen to our class size if we combine?
A. Superintendent Johnke: Class sizes will increase, almost double, but we still will be a small school as far as the state is concerned. Most of our classes will be smaller than classes in Yankton, Vermillion, etc., and the rest will be similar in size to other districts. The state feels sometimes a district can be too small and not be efficient monetarily and not be able to offer the needed curriculum or provide academic competition especially in high school.
Q. Will Wakonda have to combine grades? Is it feasible to pay a teacher $25,000 to teach five students?
A. Superintendent Johnke: Combining grades is one possible cut in programs. Patrons of this district did not want to do this two years ago when we had a class of five. Paying a teacher for five students is a question that is hard to answer, it is definitely inefficient because we get $25,000 for these five students and that does not cover the costs.
Q. What will happen to the Wakonda community if the school closes? Will our property values be worth what we have invested? Will businesses close?
A. Superintendent Johnke: Hopefully keeping an attendance center in Wakonda will help the town. A loss of everything would definitely hurt the town of Wakonda; that is why the board is talking about keeping a K-6 attendance center in Wakonda. The board is working on a plan that hopes to keep this K-6 attendance center in Wakonda for as many years as possible in the future so that both Wakonda and Irene can have a progressive future. By maintaining an attendance center property values should not go down and businesses will survive and expand in the future.