VSD faces major cuts in ’11-’12

The South Dakota Legislature�s successful balancing of the state�s budget at the end of this year�s session means major fiscal cuts must be made by the Vermillion School District.

Details of those cuts were revealed during discussion at the Vermillion School Board meeting Monday night after the board members heard 20 minutes of passionate testimony from a parent urging that a middle school music teacher position be retained.

The Vermillion School District must deal with a double-whammy as the school board prepares its 2011-12 budget. The local general fund will be receiving an estimated $462,000 cut in revenue from Pierre.

At the same time, $139,000 in federal dollars the district received from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) will be used up by next fall, with no new reimbursement coming from Washington.

These items/positions, followed by the reductions they will bring to the general fund, are currently being considered by the school board: Textbook delay, $46,000; 10 percent cut in supply purchases, $23,000; one FTE (full time equivalent) guidance, $40,000; one fte library, $36,000; 1 fte elementary teacher, $40,000; half-time fte high school math, $17,000; one fte music, $40,000; half-time family consumer science, $22,500; one fte high school English, $40,000; one fte maintenance, $25,000; one fte clerical, $22,000; one sport coach, $8,500; and other activity, $2,000.

These cuts, if enacted, will reduce the local district�s general fund by $462,000.

The school board is considering these additional cuts that had been funded the last two years by ARRA: a part-time birth-3 teacher, $10,000; a reading specialist, $60,000; a part-time special ed teacher, $24,000; a part-time math teacher, $20,000, and an education assistant, $25,000. These reductions total $139,000.

The board is also considering eliminating two Title I teaching positions to reduce the budget $82,000; one fte special ed teacher or assistants, $40,000, and a part-time grant funded position that will trim $15,000 from the school budget.

Cuts originated in Pierre

The cuts to school district budgets across South Dakota originated in Pierre, beginning with a proposal that a 10 percent across-the-board cut be made to the state budget. Gov. Dennis Daugaard proposed the deep cuts to eliminate a $127 million structural deficit in South Dakota�s budget this year.

Funding for K-12 education was spared a 10 percent cut when legislators found a way to dedicate $12.2 million of one-time funding, reducing the total amount of general aid to schools by approximately 6.6 percent.

This means the Vermillion School District will receive a cut of $402,000 in per pupil aid from Pierre for the 2011-12 school year. In addition, the district will also receive a total of $60,000 less in funding because of bank franchise tax and county apportionment. The total funding loss to the district is $462,000.

The school board had already planned to use over $115,000 in reserve funds in the 2011-12 general fund budget. It has allocated an additional $100,000 to reduce the fiscal shortfall to $362,000.

This school year, the Vermillion School District received $4,804.60 in per pupil funding from Pierre. With the state general fund budget cuts to education, the district will receive $4,486.95 for every student enrolled next year. That�s a reduction of $317.65 per student.

Should the state Legislature not find $12.2 million next year to replace the one-time funding used for education in the upcoming budget, and should all other cuts remain the same a year from now, the Vermillion School District will see its per student funding for 2012-13 go down to approximately $4,387.

Passionate plea

The school board has yet to take any formal action on these proposed cuts. There have been no RIF (reduction in force) announcements issued by board members or administrators.

Such action will only happen after the Vermillion Education Association (VEA) has an opportunity to respond to the proposed cuts outlined above. Those figures were presented to the VEA approximately a week ago. They have two weeks from the time of receiving the board�s plans to come back with their own proposal for the board to consider.

Although no specific individuals have received a RIF notice, Terri Bellis, a USD professor who for years has volunteered as a choreographer for Vermillion High School�s Rhythm in Red and other school musical groups, made a passionate plea to the board at the beginning of Monday�s meeting.

She asked that a music teacher position at Vermillion Middle School not be cut as the district struggles to make ends meet with fewer dollars.

Nearly every chair in the Vermillion School Library was filled with students, parents and other adults who attended the meeting to show their support for the school�s music program as Bellis spoke.

Bellis, an educator, author and lecturer, admitted to the board that she was extremely nervous.

�It�s because I care more about what I�m doing tonight than anything I�ve ever done in my professional career,� she said. �I�m speaking here tonight on behalf of the parents, students, teachers and others who are here.�

Bellis talked about the many benefits of music education, specifically show choir, to students in the Vermillion School District, noting that the student participants and their families go to great lengths to cover costs for costumes, travel and other expenses through volunteer efforts and money from their own pockets.

Approximately one-in-five students enrolled in the Vermillion School District are involved in show choir activities. The middle school music teaching position is especially important, Bellis said, because of the manpower needed to support all of the district�s show choir activities.

�We can�t do it � without that position,� Bellis said. �There is no way one person can oversee four show choirs.�

Cutting that position would likely have a domino effect, she said.

�If the sixth grade choir goes, there�s no feed into the seventh and eighth grade choirs � and when that goes, our new prep team goes, and then, in a few years, Rhythm in Red will be gone,� Bellis said, �because we can�t sustain a show choir without that support.�

The board will be spared from making some personnel cuts as it grapples with the funding shortfall. Monday night it accepted the early retirement requests of faculty members Gwen Hall, Lea Gustad, Ilene Lerseth and Shari Kolbeck.

It also approved the resignations of teachers Kelli Bartscher and Katie Durst.

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