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Sales tax funding for education debate- Stroeder: Recommendations could help local taxpayers

After working for months with other South Dakotans on the governor’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on Education, Eric Stroeder said he has learned a lot about the problems facing the state in education.
Stroeder, along with math and science teacher LuAnn Lindskov of Timber Lake, were a part of the group that met with South Dakotans from across the state to discuss the problem with teacher pay and how to attract new teachers into the profession. The Blue Ribbon Task Force on Education (BRTF) was appointed by Governor Dennis Daugaard with three goals in mind: A quality system of schools focused on student achievement; a workforce of great teachers; and an efficient, equitable funding system that supports those goals.
Stroeder said the governor and those at the state level have recognized that low pay, (South Dakota ranks 51st in the nation in teacher pay) leads to new problems officials in education have to deal with.
“Why would a student pick the lowest paying profession on the majors list when they are entering college?” he asked. “These days money has more meaning and if you look at other degrees teacher pay discourages kids from entering the profession.”
He said some students still go into teaching because it is what they want to do, (statistically fewer each year) but after graduation they leave the state to neighboring states where they can make more money.
The BRTF is pushing the South Dakota Legislature to take a bold and innovative step in solving this crisis.
The governor introduced a plan in his state-of-the-state address, telling legislators “We all know that the key to student achievement is an effective teacher.  We also know that South Dakota’s teacher salaries are lowest in the nation and have been for decades.”
The governor proposed a plan to deal with the teacher shortage and create a funding source to take care of the funding for an increase in teacher pay.
This includes adopting a new formula for state aid to education; establishing a half penny tax to fund the salary increase; recommending voluntary shared service for rural school; and recommendations for teacher recruitment and retention.
“We all want what is best for our children,” he told the legislators. “We want to provide them with a quality education. And we know that requires a strong workforce of great teachers. This is the year to act.”
The new formula for state aid to education includes a sliding scale for student-to-teacher ratio recommendations depending on the number of students in a district.
“We are closer right now to a 14-to-1 ratio, but some of that is on purpose because we felt it was important to the students in reading and math and helping to keep our test scores up,” said Stroeder. “The aid will be based on the 15-1 ratio as the state deems necessary for a district with 600 students.”
What that means is that not all teachers would get the $8,500 raise because of the number of teachers employed.
But the bottom line, according to Stroeder is that it would mean $400,000 additional aid to the district.
“From there we would have to decide how to spend it,” he said.

Property tax relief
The money raised from the half penny sales tax would also raise enough money that 40 percent could be designated for property tax relief.
“Our district is so dependent on property taxes. On the local level it would shift some of the burden onto the sales tax,” said Stroeder. “If we don’t pass it (the tax increase) we will be even more dependent on local property taxes. We will see more opt-out requests if it isn’t passed.”
Stroeder said education has gone to the property owners more than it should have to alleviate some of that burden tax
“It should help with our reserve spending. If we know the money is going to be there, we can spend our reserves. That hasn’t been true with one time funding,” he said.

Stroeder said other staff will also need to have raises as well. He said there will benefits across the board with the tax increase.

Capital outlay
The flexibility with 20 percent of capital outlay that allows districts to spend from the general fund would be extended.
“We have been kind of leery of using the capital outlay but with this being permanent we can depend on it being there,” said Stroeder. “We could possibly fund some salaries and discuss how this will impact our opt-out in the future.”
Another point the governor discussed in his address to the legislature is the equalization of revenues. What that does is to pool all tax revenue from other sources, such as the  wind farm in Campbell County and oil pipeline revenues in other districts, into one fund to be evenly distributed to districts throughout the state. This will help to eliminate districts that are rich in these revenue while other districts have none.
“This might hurt us a little with the wind farm taxes,” said Stroeder. “We won’t know until later. Right now what we get from the wind farm and after the equalization will be about the same.”

Stroeder said the funding for e-learning (taking classes online) is very important to rural districts. It allows students to take classes taught in other places without the district having to fill the position and pay the teacher.
“Rural districts are very dependent on this tool,” he said. “I think it is well worth the funding.”
He said that although there is some disagreement with what the governor proposed it would make the state more competitive in education.
“We aren’t going to match what other states are paying because they recognize there is a problem and are paying their teachers more,” he said. “Although people are saying they don’t like a tax increase, they have to look at the big picture. We have been very dependent on local property tax revenue for a long time and it is time for us to have the state do more on their level and give the local taxpayers a break.”
Stroeder said residents need to let their legislators know what they want them to do.
“We can’t emphasize enough how important hearing from the people back home can be,” he said. “People need to realize how much influence constituents have on our legislators.”
Legislators for the Mobridge-Pollock School District are Senator Corey Brown of Gettysburg, Representative Michele Harrison of Mobridge and Representative Justin Cronin of Gettysburg.
(Contact information can be found of the Opinions page in this issue.)
– Katie Zerr