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Tripp-Delmont board settles on five-year, $400,000 opt-out

TRIPP--Under the pressure of public pushback, the Tripp-Delmont School Board on Monday night nearly retreated to reconsider a decision it made at a previous meeting.

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TRIPP-Under the pressure of public pushback, the Tripp-Delmont School Board on Monday night nearly retreated to reconsider a decision it made at a previous meeting.

At the January meeting, the board motioned to pursue a spring opt-out and was scheduled to decide Monday on the amount and length of the opt-out. During the marathon four-hour meeting, the board heard comments from a handful of attendees voicing concerns about whether the projected opt-out would pass a public vote based upon information that the district's current opt-out would overlap with a proposed second opt-out for two pay periods.

The comments led the board to make a motion to rescind its January decision, but the motion died due to a lack of a second.

"In all honesty, it scares the crap out of me," Tripp-Delmont School Board President Jeff Kramer said in regards to waiting to pursue a later opt-out. "To cut it that close is scary because then we look at having to dissolve if it doesn't pass-there won't be enough time to consolidate."

Instead, the board unanimously voted to continue with the spring opt-out, set the amount for $400,000 and decided it would last five years.

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The resolution allows Tripp-Delmont to opt out of state-mandated tax limits, which would allow the district to raise taxes.

During an hour-long public input session that included two Tripp residents firing questions and accusations at the board, one point was clear: farmers would be the most affected by the opt-out and some might not be willing to pay more without "less overhead."

And part of the "uproar" comes from what attendees called misinformation being passed around Tripp, leading to rumors, gossip and uneasiness among community members. That led a group of approximately 10 residents to call for more transparency from the board, and for the board to circulate fact sheets about the opt-out.

"You're to the point where you're going to have to make some serious decisions or quit putting off this lack of transparency, which is causing so much anguish in the community," said Tripp Mayor Vic Olson. "You have to put it in black and white. Let's make some decisions."

It would take 5 percent of the voters to refer the opt-out resolution passed Monday to a public vote, and voters have until March 14 to circulate and submit a petition. A potential election date is May 2, according to Superintendent Gail Swenson.

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 district's current opt-out is set to expire in November 2018.

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

"When you've had an opt-out for the past seven years, there's no way to not do an opt-out. Unless something miraculous has happened, that's not going to go away," Board Member Carrie Reiner said. "You don't pass the opt-out and the school dissolves and half the people in this town are going to go away."

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School officials began talks about reorganization toward the beginning of the school year, when enrollment trends showed Tripp-Delmont has lost 17 percent of its student body in four years and the Hutchinson County school's enrollment has been cut in half in the past 16 years, recording a 52 percent drop between 2000 and 2016.

And projections show enrollment is expected to continue on a downward slope, but the situation is not as dire as the board once thought.

Originally, Tripp-Delmont officials thought the district was operating on a two-year timeline to either consolidate, pass an additional opt-out or dissolve, but recent projections from the Associated School Boards of South Dakota show Tripp-Delmont can operate through fiscal year 2020. And, if the additional opt-out were to pass, the board's projections show it could operate for an additional school year, through 2021.

Four-day school week

In a cost-saving effort, the board in November motioned to move to a four-day school week for the 2017-18 school year, with some five-day weeks incorporated. On Monday night, the board approved a calendar that will have students attending classes Tuesdays through Fridays.

The approved calendar schedules 151 days and 1,045 classroom hours for Tripp-Delmont students with a day beginning at 8:10 a.m. and ending at 3:35 p.m. The state of South Dakota requires students attend classes for 962.5 hours per school year.

In a survey issued in late 2016, 168 community members and 26 staff members indicated moving toward a four-day school week would be their first choice for a cost-saving measure, as opposed to multi-age classrooms and staff cuts.

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