Ballot issues will impact school district
By Katie Zerr
Two measures on the November ballot will have a direct impact on the Mobridge-Pollock School District. Both could change the manner in which all South Dakota school districts are managed.
Initiated measure 15 is a proposed one-cent increase in the state’s sales and use taxes. The money collected from that increase would be placed in a special fund known as the Moving South Dakota Forward fund. The funds will then be allocated into two sub-funds with 50 percent being allocated to the Moving K-12 Education Forward fund; and 50 percent allocated to the Moving Healthcare Forward fund for Medicaid.
The projected revenue from this increase would be $175 to $180 million which could mean an extra $600 to $700 for each of the 128,000 students in South Dakota. With 687 students in the Mobridge-Pollock School District, it would mean $448,000 to $500,000 to the district. These numbers could change depending on what happens with the economy.
The second measure, Referred law 16, is an education reform act to establish a teacher scholarship program; create a program for math and science teacher bonuses, create a program for teacher merit bonuses, mandate a uniform teacher and principal evaluation system, and eliminate state requirements for teacher tenure.
Mobridge–Pollock Superintendent Tim Frederick said residents need to consider the whole picture when looking at these measures, including what has happened in the recent past to per student funding in South Dakota before deciding on how to vote.
“Right now the burden to fund education is squarely on the shoulders of the property owners in South Dakota,” he said. “If the increase passes, it will spread the burden of funding education to everyone.”
He said patrons of the district should consider what they are paying now for the opt-out and what they would pay with an increase in the sales and use tax.
“We are currently taking the entire $350,000 annually in the opt-out. Unless the state aid formula changes, our current opt-out won’t be enough to cover the funding shortfall,” he said. “Or we could pass this increase and we can look at a large reduction or elimination of the present opt-out.”
He said the increase is not about bringing new and exciting programs to the district, but maintaining and sustaining the programs and curriculum that is now in place. He said in a couple years with the tax increase the district would then be solid enough to look at adding programs.
“A couple of years ago we took a more than $200,000 hit in state aid funding. We were able to make that up in federal funding,” he said. “There is a possibility with this election, we could lose even more federal funding.”
In 2011, the state cut per-student funding by 8.7 percent. The district was able to fill that gap with federal grants and may be able to fill some funding gaps in the future, but if those federal funds (such as impact aid for federal taken lands) continue to dry up, the district would lose that funding source.
“A lot of people think this happened in the last couple of years because of cuts in state funding,” he said. “We need to go back 10 years and see that education has not been fully funded. If Measure 15 passes, it will allow us to catch up.”
Frederick said for many districts, including the Mobridge–Pollock District, it would be able to keep programs and teachers that are now in place.
“As a district, people need to understand that $200,000 of the SIG grant will be done in 2012-2013,” he said. “We spent that funding largely on class- size reduction teachers. Losing those teachers would mean larger class sizes in the district and that is not in the best interest of our students”
Referred Law 16
Frederick said there are many positives that could come in time from passing this measure, but because the stockholders (teachers) were included in the bill creation process and it impacts them the most, he doesn’t think there is much support for it.
“In our district we have strong leadership on our school board, with our administrators and strong leaders among our teachers that could create a positive outcome here,” he said. “But that is not true for all districts in the state. There are districts that will struggle with it.”
He said the districts with a strong, positive education climate would fare the best with this measure, but there could still be animosity if it is preceived the legislation was forced onto school districts.