Froke: Ed funding plan ‘presents challenges’

Superintendent Mark Froke told members of the Vermillion School Board to be prepared for another year of dealing with funding challenges while working on the school district's budget, despite some recent positive news concerning school funding.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard's state spending plan unveiled Dec. 6 includes a 4.5 percent increase in aid to school districts.

Lawmakers during their last session approved a $52 million cut in state education aid as part of efforts to deal with a $127 million state budget deficit. A study by the Associated School Boards of South Dakota found that the drop in state aid prompted public schools to cut budgets by more than $38 million and eliminate the equivalent of 465 full-time jobs.

"Last year, you'll recall that we had a 6.6 percent cut in state aid in per pupil funding, and we ended up having to make about $460,000 worth of cuts, so that took a lot of work last year. Now with the governor's proposal, it seemed that people were quite positive about what he proposed, I think, because it was an increase rather than a cut," Froke said. "I guess I'm not that positive on what was presented, because it means we will have more work to do with the budget."

The governor has proposed $22.2 million in K-12 education aid increases for the next budget year.

"The total per pupil amount for Vermillion will be $43,830, but then you pair that with a $75,000 cut in per pupil funding due to enrollment decline, and we'll have $31,170 less in state aid funding that what we had this year," the superintendent told board members Monday. "Also, there will be other budgetary issues both on the expense and the revenue side that we'll have to deal with, but right out of the chute, we start with a negative $31,170 in per pupil funding."

Along with an increase of $9.8 million in ongoing aid, schools would get another $4 million in one-time help for operating expenses under the plan. They also would get $8.4 million in one-time money to cover staff training for initiatives to help students improve in math and English.

"The base increase of 2.3 percent was provided in state aid, and then an additional seven-tenths of a percent was added, but that doesn't equate to the one-time funding of $97 per pupil that we had last year," Froke said. "The seven-tenths of a percent represents $30.73, so we're going to have $66.28 less (per pupil) in the one-time funding.

"Overall, we will have $34.68 per pupil when you compare all of the funding from last year to all of the proposed funding now," he said.

Froke noted that the $8.4 million in one-time funding for teacher training would go directly to teachers rather than school districts. The funding has been allocated to provide a variety of training in Common Core Academic Standards, the South Dakota My Life counseling program, science instruction, and other areas.

"A lot of things – we're out ahead of the game in training a number of our teachers, so we have a question of how that is going to play in concerning our teachers that have been participating in this (training) already," Froke said, "and if there will be any stipends for them."

The $8.4 million equates to about $800 for each teacher in the state. Multiply $800 by the number of teachers employed by the Vermillion School District, "and that represents about two teachers' salaries for us," Froke said.

"This is just a start. We have another long legislative session ahead, and this could definitely change, but this is the path that has been laid out there," he said. "The funding presents some challenges for us."

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