Proposed funding reduction worries school board

Vermillion School Superintendent Mark Froke has always preferred to look ahead while planning for the next school year and the challenges facing the school district in providing a high quality education to all students.

At Monday night�s meeting of the Vermillion School Board, while discussing the ramifications of Gov. Dennis Daugaard�s proposed 10 percent cut in education funding for K-12 students, he could only look back.

�Gov. Duagaard has proposed a 10 percent cut,� Froke said. �We are already starting out from behind. By law, schools should be receiving a 1.26 percent increase, which amounts to about $75,000 this year, and the state aid formula states that schools should receive a 3 percent increase or the rate of inflation, which ever is less.�

Last year, Gov. Rounds and the state Legislature froze any increases in state aid. This year, Gov. Daugaard is seeking a 10 percent cut in that funding. �Our per pupil funding was froze, and if you recall, we actually took a cut last year because we lost about $50,000 due to the way they (the Legislature) counted pupils,� he said. �I remember last talking to Finance Committee and telling them that we took every cookie out of the cookie jar that we could find, and they were well aware of that.�

If the 10 percent cut becomes a reality, Froke said, it will be like stepping back in time, for the Vermillion School District�s future state aid funding would be at the same level it was six years ago.

Major points that the superintendent shared with the board include:

� The current per pupil amount is $4,805. A 10 percent reduction would mean $480 less per student next year for a new amount of $4,325 per student. This will take funding levels back about six years in the per pupil amount. It will take an estimated 10 years to return funding levels back to the current rate, which means today�s kindergarten students may not have the educational opportunities currently provided in schools today.

�This is what Gov. Daugaard refers to as �resetting� education funding,� Froke said. �A current kindergarten student today, if these cuts go through, won�t see the educational programs that current students are receiving.�

� For Vermillion, this reduction equals approximately $606,230. This number is calculated by multiplying the $480 X 1263 students.

�We�re also going to lose some bank franchise taxes,� he said. �There will be about a 80 percent drop there equivalent to $40,000, and apportionment money and money from fines is going to be down about $20,000 to $25,000.�

� Vermillion School District residents have supported an opt-out of the general fund tax limitation in the amount of $800,000 to maintain educational programs. This amount was determined with the expectation that the state law would be followed, which provides an increase of 3 percent or inflation whichever is less. The opt-out was not expected to cover a cut in educational funding as proposed by the governor.

�The question may arise how that money (from the opt-out) may affect any potential cuts,� Froke said. �And perhaps we may be asked why we couldn�t operate with the proposed cuts since we have this $800,000 opt-out. The $800,000 was projected to maintain programs, and we were expecting that the state law would be followed, and that we could be receiving a state aid increase according to state law. The $800,000 opt-out doesn�t cover us for cuts to our per-pupil amount.�

� People may question how the school district can upgrade facilities and purchase equipment such as computers but then have to find cuts in the budget. The answer is that the reduction proposed by Gov. Daugaard is in the general fund. This is a separate levy from the capital outlay fund, and we cannot move that money over to pay for general fund expenses such as salaries, classroom supplies, or activities. Capital outlay funds can be used for the purchase of equipment, computers, construction repairs, and payment of debt.

� Proposed cuts in per pupil funding will necessitate personnel cuts. The result of these cuts will mean larger class sizes, fewer programs, less services, and diminished opportunities for students.

�Over the years, you�ve been cutting virtually every year,� Froke told the school board. �You�ve been cutting around the edges. We�ve been reducing areas that weren�t so much personnel, but rather supply areas or professional development, things like that.�

Gov. Daugaard�s proposed cuts, if they become reality, will likely force the school board to cut personnel, he said.

�Throughout the legislative session, we ask district patrons to consider the impact of the proposed cuts in educational funding to the Vermillion schools,� he said.

The school district�s administrators have started to make plans of what steps to take should the Vermillion school system receive a 10 percent reduction in per-student funding.

�Some of the things that we�ve been looking at, in order to make this budget work with the proposed cuts, are detrimental to the school district, to say the least,� Froke said. �The reduction is very significant.�

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