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SD superintendents to seek more than 3% bump in school aid

By Chet Brokaw

PIERRE — South Dakota school superintendents clearly appreciate Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s proposal to boost state financial aid to school districts by 3 percent next year, nearly double the inflationary increase required by state law. But they also plan to ask the Legislature for a little bit more.

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School officials and education groups will support a legislative study panel’s recommendation that state aid to schools be increased by 3.8 percent to put spending per student back where it was before budget cuts imposed in 2011 when a sluggish economy limited state tax collections.

Beresford Superintendent Brian Field said his district has cut about $700,000 in staff expenses since the 2005-2006 school year, going to two sections instead of three for grades 5-12. A 3 percent boost in state aid would provide Beresford $65,000, while a 3.8 percent increase would add another $24,000. That extra money could be used to restore the school nurse to full-time and maybe hire some support staff, he said.

Beresford is balancing its general operating budget now by using money that normally goes for equipment and buildings, Field said.

“We’ve trimmed it back as much as we can,” Field said. “Obviously anything we can get is going to be helpful.”

Baltic Superintendent Robert Sittig said a 3 percent raise would give his district an extra $51,000, but a 3.8 percent increase would provide another $15,000 that likely would be used to boost teachers’ salaries. Baltic is covering its $2.7 million operating budget by tapping reserves and building and equipment money, he said.

“It’s very hard to make the budget work when we’d get less money next year than we did five years ago,” Sittig said. “For us, it’s a little hard to understand why our funding can’t be back to at least where it was before.”

South Dakota law requires per-student spending, a combination of state money and local property taxes, to annually increase by the rate of inflation up to a maximum of 3 percent a year.

State aid was frozen in 2010 and then cut in 2011 as part of Daugaard’s plan to slash most state spending by 10 percent. The 2011 Legislature provided some onetime state money and froze school district property taxes at previous levels to reduce the effective cut to school districts to 6.6 percent.