The perfect storm of dropping student numbers, changes in the state aid formula and the increase in teacher salaries forced the Mobridge-Pollock School Board, Monday, April 9, to make two tough decisions: to eliminate a staff position; and to opt out of the tax limitation.
The board made the decision after a lengthy discussion on the financial challenges facing the district in the 2018-2019 school year and in the future.
When the South Dakota legislature passed the new funding formula in 2016, several aspects of the law are playing a large role in the decisions the board was forced to make. Those factors included the 15 to 1 teacher to student ratio, meeting the teacher salary increases, and carrying a 25-percent or less cash balance in the reserves.
These factors combined with a major reduction in the number of students attending school in the district from 682 in 2015 to a projected 598 in 2018, has left the district looking at a possible spending deficit of $834,168.
Frederick reminded the board they were aware of possible deficit spending under the new formula, but it is the drop in student numbers that makes these decisions necessary. He said by trying to meet the teacher to student ratio, and utilizing current fund balances (impact aid and capital outlay flexibility) the district would be able to lower that deficit to just lower than $100,000.
But with 40 instructional teachers, five other teaching positions and 31 non-certified administrative positions, to meet the salary target in 2018-19, there is a need to ask for the opt out. The funding needed to meet those needs is just under $212,000. Opt out funding available is $350,000.
“These decisions are driven by the accountability measures built into the funding formula,” said board president Eric Stroeder. “The district has always taken only the opt out funding that was needed to cover those deficits. We have to keep the trust of the taxpayers by only using the opt out funding that is necessary to reduce the deficit.”
The board agreed to opt out for $350,000 starting with the calendar year 2018 taxes payable in the calendar year 2019. This opt out will be for five years, which will be thru taxes payable in the calendar year 2023.
A referral to put the opt out to a vote of the people can be filed within 20 days of the publication of the board’s decision.
Before any decision was made on staff reduction, the board had a lengthy discussion on how to increase the number of students attending school in the district.
“We need to talk about bussing,” said board member Jane Looyenga. “We need to consider bussing in town, out west and even to the east.”
The Mobridge-Pollock School District allows busses from other districts to come into the community to take students outside of the district to attend school.
It is estimated that about 30 students are currently leaving the district to attend other districts.
The board agreed that even though these districts were trying to save their schools, the Mobridge-Pollock needed to do a better job letting these patrons know what the district has to offer in academics and extra-curricular activities. They agreed there is a need to get students excited about coming to or staying in the district before the next school year.
Frederick said that means anyone who may be thinking about attending school in the district needs to contact the school before any decisions about bussing could be contemplated.
Board member Tasha Peltier asked how staff would gauge the costs of new bussing routes. She said it seemed a little premature to consider bussing without that information.
Although the district has a high rate of student mobility, Frederick reminded the board it was not just the mobile students that have left the district. He said parents leaving the district for better jobs has played a role in the dropping student numbers.
The discussion progressed to staff reductions needed to meet the 15-1 ration and help with the remaining deficit but also meet the salary accountability.
“Do we kick the can down the road and have to make deeper cuts next year?” asked Stroeder. “Do we take that chance on increased student numbers? We could fall behind and lose good teachers because we are not competitive in our salaries.”
He said although the district was not destitute yet, these tough decisions must be made this year.
“When it comes to talking about eliminating positions, we are talking about a person and that makes it really tough,” he said.
The staff reduction began with not replacing the fifth grade teaching position opened with Mary Jo Anderson’s retirement. The position currently held by Loxie Shillingstad would be eliminated and she would move to the open ELA/reading position in the middle school.
Through staff reduction the board considered eliminating one non-instructional certified staff member and one ELA/reading position.
The board decided to also eliminate two ESP positions. One is a position currently held by Linda Reecy. She will be reassigned as a paraprofessional in special education. The other position eliminated would be the one currently held by Gary Street.
The board went into executive session and when they reconvened in regular session Stroeder told those attending the meeting that the board would move forward with the staff reduction.
Looyenga made the motion to eliminate the position currently held by Lisa Hurd.
“It was a hard decision because we are talking about a person,” said Stroeder. “It is personal because we are like a big family.” He said on Tuesday that the board is being pulled by two sides. The taxpayers of the district want the board to run the schools like a business. On the other side are the parents and the students who want the board to do what is best of the students regardless of costs.
The board decided not to eliminate the counseling position currently held by Jody Kludt.
“We had to find a balance but also do what is right for the students,” said Stroeder. “It is more than about the dollar and cents. We looked at what we could cut and save more in other places.”
The board also approved offering contracts to the certified staff, and letters of intent to re-hire the classified staff.
They also approved the motion to opt out.
– Katie Zerr –