District braces for possible funding cuts

The Vermillion School Board is learning that predicting what will happen to public school funding during the 2011 session of the South Dakota Legislature is about as reliable as determining whether a winter storm will hit or miss the region.

At Monday night�s meeting of the Vermillion School Board, Superintendent Mark Froke shared data the district had received on Jan. 7 from the Associated School Boards of South Dakota that shows the financial impact of a 5 percent cut from the per-student-allocation of $4,804.60 received by each public school district.

The 5 percent cut would mean more financial challenges for the school board to consider, but complicating the issue is talk in Pierre that Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who was sworn into office last weekend, may be considering a 10 percent cut in the per-student allocation.

All school districts, Froke told the board, would receive approximately $30 million less than this year if the allocation is cut 5 percent.

A 10 percent slash of the per-student funding received by the state�s public schools would reduce the amount if revenue received by the public school districts by $60 million.

�The Associated School Boards shows Vermillion with a $303,115 state aid cut under Gov. Rounds� 5 percent budget cut,� � Froke said. �People are anticipating that Gov. Daugaard may be recommending a 10 percent cut � I hope that�s not the case � but in case that happens, the Associated School Boards has identified a 10 percent cut for us to be $606,230.

�We�ll try to keep this discussion going at school board meetings so we can keep the public informed on this,� he said. �Obviously, either one of these amounts � a cut of 5 percent or of 10 percent � will have a devastating effect on school district�s general fund budget, and consequently on our educational program if indeed we do see these types of cuts.�

The Vermillion School District will face difficulties in maintaining current educational programs if steep budget cuts become a reality, Froke said.

�Also, there is potential for class sizes to increase,� he said. �We�ll do the best we can, as you know. We always do the best that we can with the budget.�

Froke said South Dakota school districts will learn more following a budget presentation scheduled by Gov. Daugaard on Jan. 19. �It will be important to listen to that,� Froke said. �It also will be important, during this legislative session, to maintain contact with our legislators, to let them know how important state funding is to our school district and to the children of our schools.�

A memo circulated by Wayne Lueders, executive director of the Associated School Boards of South Dakota, indicates �rumors are spreading about the new administration�s desire to address the �structural deficit� and balance the budget during the upcoming legislative session. The discussion now appears to focus on a possible 10 percent cut rather than the original 5 percent.�

Lueders said a 5 percent cut for fiscal year 2012, following a year of zro increase and 10 years of less than 3 percent increases to the per-student allocation, will be some devastating to some districts.

�A 10 percent cut will be devastating for all school districts,� he said.

In a 20-minute inaugural speech at the state Capitol, last weekend, Gov. Daugaard told a crowd of about 1,000 that South Dakota �cannot spend more than we take in.�

�And to the extent that cuts need to be made, everyone � everyone � must take a part and share in the sacrifice,� he said.

Daugaard didn�t specifically mention if he intends to make deeper cuts in per-student-allocations to school districts than former Gov. Rounds had proposed.

Rounds proposed a state budget before he left office, but Daugaard is expected to propose much deeper cuts when he presents a revised budget to the South Dakota Legislature on Jan. 19.

If spending continues at current rates, South Dakota would end up $140 million short of the revenue needed to balance the budget for the fiscal year beginning in July. Daugaard said the state should use reserve funds only for emergencies and must spend only what it takes in from taxes.

Rounds had proposed 5 percent cuts in state aid to school districts and reimbursements to doctors, nursing homes and others who provide health care to low-income people in the Medicaid program. The departed governor also proposed using some reserves and the final installment of federal stimulus aid to balance the budget.

But Daugaard urged all state officials to help him look for savings by making every state office more efficient and less bureaucratic.

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