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Tripp-Delmont to pursue spring opt out

TRIPP — One step at a time.

That was Tripp-Delmont’s mantra Monday night as it made the first step in pursuit of an opt out for spring of this year.

On Monday, the board could have also decided how much money the opt out would be for and how long it would last, but opted to table those decisions for its February meeting, allowing the board to “do its due diligence” in reviewing the projections.

To obtain the opt out, Tripp-Delmont Superintendent Gail Swenson said school officials would have to make a declaration prior to July, and hold an election prior to Oct. 1.

The formal opt out resolution from the board would have to pass by a two-thirds majority vote, then the board could refer the opt out directly to a public vote or wait until 5 percent of voters petition to refer it to a vote.

Should a vote be required, Swenson said it would be prudent for the board to hold an election sooner rather than later.

“The latest I believe you should hold an election, assuming it’s referred to a vote, is early May,” Swenson said. “At that point, you’re starting to work on budgets and, if it fails, you could tweak it and try again to get it passed in July.”

If 5 percent of the public did not rally to refer the resolution to a public vote, the opt out resolution would pass per the board's vote.

If the opt out were to pass, the first installment of the opt out's funding would be received in May 2018. If it were to fail, the district would have until July 15 to re-vote.

The opt out discussions come as the result of troubling enrollment trends in the Tripp-Delmont School District.

At the beginning of the school year, school officials feared the district was operating on a crunched, two-year timeline, prompting a sense of urgency and serious consolidation discussions with area districts, mainly Parkston and Armour. But the Tripp-Delmont School Board revealed projections at its December meeting that show the district can operate at least through the year 2020, easing the board’s tensions.

The board removed discussions about possible consolidations from its January meeting agenda for the first time since August.

With the current opt out, the district would have approximately $2.039 million in total revenue for fiscal year 2018, compared to the $1.696 million the district has budgeted for fiscal year 2017. But the projected total revenue in the district is expected to continue dwindling through fiscal year 2022, when the board projects to have about $1.078 million — the lowest total revenue shown on documents provided by the board, which go back through fiscal year 2013.

Should the district pass an additional $300,000 opt out, the board’s projections show the district could operate for an additional school year, through 2021.

According to information provided by the district, Tripp-Delmont’s enrollment dropped by 17 percent in four years, between 2013 and 2017, and the Hutchinson County school has lost more than half of its student body in the past 16 years, recording a 52 percent drop between 2000 and 2016.

And the trend shows no signs of slowing.

Projections from the Tripp-Delmont School Board show enrollment is expected to dwindle through fiscal year 2022, when officials anticipate 113 students to be in kindergarten through 12th grade, representing another 25 percent skid in enrollment from the current school year. At the time of the state’s annual count, 151 students were enrolled in the Tripp-Delmont district for the 2016-2017 school year.

Four-day school week

In an attempt to save money, the district in November motioned to move to a four-day school week for the 2017-2018 school year, with some five-day weeks incorporated into the schedule.

On Monday night, the board presented four options for next year’s calendar for the district, but decided to wait until its February meeting to finalize its calendar.

Swenson has said at past meetings that a four-day week likely won’t do much for the district in terms of saving money, but it does have potential to attract more students, which she says is exactly what Tripp-Delmont needs. Additionally, Swenson said, some money is likely to be saved in transportation and utilities costs.

Each of the calendar options presented show students would be at school for more hours than the state-mandated minimum, which is 962.5 hours each school year. The Tripp-Delmont board projected students would attend more than 152 days, or 1,104 hours of classes, regardless of the option chosen. Swenson said faculty and administration prefer a Tuesday through Friday set up with classes running from 8:15 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. or 8:20 a.m. to 3:35 p.m.

“If you’re hosting an athletic event here on Friday night, after that game we can shut down utilities to vacation-level temperatures and not have to turn them on again until early Tuesday morning,” Swenson said. “If you take Fridays off, then you’re looking at times when you’re hosting Friday events and have to have utilities on anyway.”

In a survey issued in late 2016, 168 community members indicated moving to a four-day school week would be their first choice for a cost-saving measure, while 122 said multi-age classrooms and 114 said staff cuts would be the best move for the district. Similarly, 26 staff members preferred a shortened school week, while eight preferred multi-age classrooms and seven favored staff cuts.

“It’s change, nobody likes change and you’re not going to know until you try it,” Board Member Ronda Nuss said. “Everything isn’t written in stone just because we decide to do it one way. We can always change it back.”

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