Froke shares painful budget with lawmakers

A somber audience listened Saturday morning as Mark Froke, superintendent of the Vermillion School District, spelled out what the community may have to live without.

�At this point, we�re responding to the governor�s recommendation,� he said to Sen. Eldon Nygaard and Reps. Tom Jones and Jamie Boomgarden at Saturday�s legislative cracker barrel meeting in Vermillion.  �And now we�re looking for you to work with the recommendations and soften the blow.�

The Vermillion School Board and administrators have come up with a plan to deal with the worse case scenario � a 10 percent cut in school funding.

�We�ve come up with this proposal that represents a 10 percent cut, which is about $606,000 from the Vermillion School District,� he said, �and as the administrators and I got into this plan, it became readily evident that we�re talking about real people here, real cuts that affect real kids.�

It�s easy, Froke said, for lawmakers to roll out the 10 percent figure when talking about trimming state spending. �I think we need to talk about the total dollar amount � $606,000 � and we have to realize that this affects our personnel and our kids.�

Local school administrators also anticipate that on top of the governor�s proposed cuts, the school district will experience a reduction of $40,000 in bank franchise taxes and $20,000 in county apportionment, bringing the total that must be trimmed from next year�s school budget to $666,320.

�We�re trying to set an example for the state in our plan by utilizing additional fund balance,� Froke said. �We don�t have a lot to use, but we have identified another $150,000, and that�s above and beyond the $115,535 of our fund balance that we�re already using.�

The plan is based on salary freeze for all returning employees, and no additional insurance benefits have been included in the calculations.

The school district will have to eliminate a textbook series purchase for the coming school year. That will save the district $46,000.

Despite the local school board�s use of additional reserve funds in next year�s budget, there will not be enough funding, under a 10 percent state cut, to save everyone�s job in the district.

�We�re reducing staff by nine fte (full time equivalents) affecting 11 certified personnel,� Froke said. �Two classified personnel positions and $22,000 cut will be cut from activities.

The district will also spend less on supplies, by $23,000.

�In presenting this to you, I hope you can use this information in Pierre as you talk to your colleagues and the governor about the local impact and how it will indeed affect education in Vermillion,� Froke told the three legislators.

Here�s a breakdown of the cuts:

� Textbooks � $46,000

� Supplies � $23,000

� 9.5 fte certified positions � $378,000

�  2 fte classified positions � $47,320

� Activities � $22,000

Total � $516,320

Nygaard said the governor hopes to get state spending in line with state revenue by making the 10 percent cut in the state�s general fund, which totals about $127 million.

�We�re hoping then that revenues increase as we get out of this recession,� he said. �And when we get to that point, we can start adding back to the areas that need help.�

The cuts need to be made now, Nygaard said, because by 2014, states will be facing a larger financial burden because of Medicaid.

�I know you�re all concerned about education, but (health care) providers are even more concerned,� he said.

He said lawmakers are beginning to sense that revenues may improve, and the governor may be supportive of a temporary tourism tax to boost funding of the state�s general fund.

�The sky isn�t falling, as Chicken Little would say,� Nygaard said. � I do think that as revenues increase, and as good ideas come from the public, that we�re going to have some alternatives.�

He added that he would be making an effort to also secure funding for higher education in the state, so that institutions like the University of South Dakota may still attract out-of-state students to Vermillion without raising tuition.

Wess Pravecek noted that keeping tuition rates stable is not enough.

�We won�t be able to keep the young people who graduate here, because the quality of life in South Dakota is going to stink,� she said. �That�s the bottom line. Why would they want to stay if a lot of the programs that we currently have and want to see stay are going to be cut so drastically?�

Pravecek suggested that the state slow the pace of budget cuts over at least a two-year period, instead of trying to make all of the cuts in one year.

�I think people in South Dakota would be more than willing to hunker down, take a good look at their budgets, be good business people and determine how we can thoughtfully tighten up without cutting our throats,� Pravecek said. �I hope that all of you will go back up there (to Pierre) as representatives of us, and let them know that the majority of the people who are here today have some real concerns from all areas of our community.�

Boomgarden noted that job development and the workforce are two major issues facing South Dakota.

�There�s a lot of places that would be willing to move here, but when they start discussing about their workforce, they have to interview nine to 10 people just to get one qualified person for each position,� he said. �It�s difficult to get some of these plants to move here when they have to go through such a routine just to get their workers on board.�

�Aren�t we stepping back even more now my cutting what our programs will be and letting go people who want to stay in South Dakota and work?� Pravecek asked.

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