The Sioux Falls School District and its five largest neighbors will see state aid fall by $16 million next school year – enough to pay the salaries of about 400 teachers – if Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s proposed budget cuts are approved.
Several pieces of legislation give area school officials hope that the final toll will be something less than Daugaard’s proposed 10 percent reduction in the state’s per-student allocation. Lawmakers have received vigorous input from taxpayers and education interests, including another round Saturday during well-attended sessions in Sioux Falls and Harrisburg.
But there’s little doubt that the funding level is going down, and conversations already are under way about what to cut and whether to pass the burden on to residents in the form of property taxes.
The only certainty is that employees, especially nonteaching staff, would be hit hardest. Salaries and benefits account for at least 80 percent of a typical school district’s general fund costs, so layoffs and pay cuts are inevitable.
“There will be less employees in our district next year than there are this year, one way or the other,” Tea Area Superintendent Jerry Schutz said.
School boards and administrators generally have four options to attack the proposed cut in state aid:
# Reduce expenses through layoffs and pay cuts;
# Raise revenue by opting out of the state’s property tax freeze;
# Spend money left over from previous years;
# Take advantage of temporary legislation that lets them pay for property and casualty insurance, bus fuel, energy and utilities with capital outlay money, which is intended for construction and maintenance.
Most school boards won’t determine their course of action until late March, after the Legislature passes next year’s budget. But area administrators say they will look at cutting costs before raising revenue.
Asking teachers, principals
At Brandon Valley, Superintendent David Pappone is taking a new tack by turning to teachers for suggestions.
“We have asked our staff – principals and teachers – to propose areas where they think savings might be found,” he said. “The depth of this (proposed) cut, I think, requires a different process.”