Several districts across South Dakota are asking voters to increase their taxes through opt-outs to make up for a 6.6 percent cut in state education funding.
One of the biggest battles is in Yankton where voters are being asked to approve an opt-out that would increase taxes and raise an extra $4.2 million for the district every year for the next ten years.
Voters in the Tripp-Delmont district also voted Tuesday night to extend it’s $300,000 a year opt-out for the next seven years.
They are two of nine districts that have passed or proposed opt-outs since the legislature cut funding for schools.
Last year 60 of the state’s 152 school districts were working under opt-outs to bring in more money for their schools. Those opt-outs paid out $17.5 million.
Including Yankton, the nine opt-outs that have been considered this spring total more than $12 million. That’s a 70 percent jump in the money needed to fund just a few schools.
South Dakota lawmakers know schools are struggling to make ends meet, and they expected to see schools ask local property owners to raise their taxes through an opt out.
“I don’t think it’s a surprise to any of us that there are districts out there that pursued an opt out,” Republican state Senator Todd Schlekeway from Sioux Falls said.
“I think we’re starting to see some of the consequences of the budget that was passed by the Republicans and Governor Daugaard’s administration,” Democratic Senator Angie Buhl of Sioux Falls said.
No Democrats voted for the budget. Senator Angie Buhl was one of them. She says the burden of funding education is now shifting.
“I think that we’ve essentially passed the cost of education on to local school districts and local taxpayers,” Buhl said.
But, Republican Todd Schlekeway says lawmakers did what they had to in tough economic times.
“We made the tough decisions and every district in the state is in a different position. Certainly there are some that are opting-out, some that are getting by using reserves, some are handling their budget situations much differently than the districts that are opting-out,” Schlekeway said.
Schlekeway says the legislature has now set schools up to get an increase in funding in the years to come.
“I think there’s a strong sentiment, many of my colleagues in the legislature at least, that we made the tough decisions this past session. We feel there’s opportunities for future growth when it comes to K-12 funding,” Schlekeway said.
“Ultimately schools are going to keep their doors open one way or another, but the question really comes down to are we giving our students an adequate education and preparing them for life in the real world,” Buhl said.
SD Schools Proposed Or Passed Opt-Outs:
Corsica Uncontested $150,000 5 Years (Increased Opt-Out)
Estelline June 14th Vote $350,000 5 Years (Increase Opt-Out)
Florence June 21st Vote $90,000 5 Years (New Opt-Out)
Grant-Deuel June 7th Vote $100,000 10 Years (Renewing Opt-Out)
Huron Board Passed/Waiting On Petitions $1.500,000 5 Years (New Opt-Out)
Sioux Falls Uncontested $4,800,000 10 Years (Increased Opt-Out)
Tripp-Delmont Passed $300,000 7 Years (Renewed Opt-Out)
Willow Lake Passed $700,000 5 Years (Increased Opt-Out)
Yankton Defeated $4,175,000 10 Years (New Opt-Out)
Source: Associated School Boards of South Dakota/KELO-TV