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Tripp-Delmont tables consolidation preference vote

TRIPP -- Back to the drawing board. Due to information received late Monday afternoon regarding the Tripp-Delmont School District's pursuit of a possible opt out to save its school from consolidation, the board voted Monday night to table its vot...

Taylor VanPelt, a sophomore at Tripp-Delmont, gives a presentation to the school board Monday night about students' consolidation preferences between Parkston, Armour and Scotland. (Caitlynn Peetz/Republic)
Taylor VanPelt, a sophomore at Tripp-Delmont, gives a presentation to the school board Monday night about students' consolidation preferences between Parkston, Armour and Scotland. (Caitlynn Peetz/Republic)

TRIPP - Back to the drawing board.

Due to information received late Monday afternoon regarding the Tripp-Delmont School District's pursuit of a possible opt out to save its school from consolidation, the board voted Monday night to table its vote on a consolidation preference.

School Board President Jeff Kramer said the board received updated projections about a timeline for the possible opt out at 3 p.m. Monday, leaving members with no time to review the information.

And after investigating options the final two contenders from a five-district field could offer, attending a joint school board meeting with Parkston Nov. 7 and hosting a joint board meeting with Armour Nov. 10, the board decided it needed more time for review.

"We haven't had a chance to look at this at all and it does impact what is happening here at our school," Kramer said. "It's in our best interest to look at this, digest it before making any major decisions. It's a good thing."

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Before a consolidation, the board is focused on preserving its district by opting out of state-mandated tax limits, which would allow the district to raise taxes. Tripp-Delmont can currently collect $300,000 in tax dollars, but it could rise to $600,000, if approved.

But even if approved, the future of Tripp-Delmont doesn't look like it will extend far, according to Superintendent Gail Swenson.

The additional opt out would simply "buy the district time" to be more diligent in creating a consolidation plan with an area district, Swenson said.

Between 2000 and 2016, Tripp-Delmont lost approximately 54 percent of its student body, with enrollment dropping from 296 students to 162, prompting consolidation talks. Following the passage of a half-percent sales tax increase intended to bolster South Dakota teacher salaries, Swenson hoped the district would receive more state funding, but the district received one of the lowest totals of new money in the state at $14,690.

Originally, before the teacher funding formula was updated by the South Dakota Legislature, Tripp-Delmont thought it was operating on an extended timeline with several years before a consolidation or dissolution would be urgent. But the low allocation of new money severely altered the district's timeline. Now, the district believes it must acquire a new opt out, consolidate or dissolve in the next two years.

And locals have voiced concern about whether or not such a drastic opt out would pass due to struggling farm prices and the knowledge the increased taxes would only be a "Band-aid" fix.

At the beginning of the meeting, the floor was opened up for public input, during which student representatives from the high school presented "student preference survey" results, in regard to the consolidation vote. According to the students surveyed in grades 7-10, four listed Parkston as their first choice and 11 said they would not attend Parkston; 11 chose Armour as their first choice, three would not attend; and seven listed Scotland as their first option, while six said they would not attend Scotland.

The student representatives told the board relationships between students are already present in Armour, as opposed to Parkston, which would help make the transition easier.

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"Please take our thoughts feelings and past 10 years into consideration as you make your decision," Sophomore Cade Gemar said. "We know it's not our choice, but we want to express our opinions."

In an August survey of Tripp-Delmont district residents, 58 people said they would prefer consolidation with Armour and 71 chose Parkston, should a consolidation occur. Surveyed members of Tripp-Delmont's staff preferred Armour over Parkston by a 14-12 margin.

Several of the approximately 45 people in attendance voiced their opinions, too.

Many voiced displeasure with "negative" media exposure the district has received in recent months, with not enough attention focused on the district's pursuit of an opt out, as opposed to a consolidation.

Swenson countered, saying the consolidation may seem like it has taken center stage because it takes longer to put together, as opposed to an opt out.

"It takes a year and a half to two years to put together a consolidation, and six months to put together an opt out," Swenson said. "It's a much shorter timeline."

The board ultimately tabled its opt out timeline discussion Monday night, a decision locals have awaited since August. The district will instead discuss the opt out timeline on Nov. 28.

The board did, however, vote Monday to transition from a five-day school week to a four-day week in the 2017-2018 school year. The board will be presented several options for calendars at upcoming meetings.

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