- Associated Press - Thursday, January 23, 2014

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - South Dakota’s school districts need more state financial aid to keep effective teachers, restore programs that have been cut and prevent a decline in student achievement, representatives of local schools said Thursday.

The lobbyists for school boards and school administrators said they appreciate Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s recommendation to boost state aid to schools by 3 percent next year, nearly double the inflationary increase required by law. But they said they would prefer to have the Legislature set the increase at 3.8 percent, which would put spending per student back where it was before budget cuts were made three years ago.

“Our message today is we need your help,” Wade Pogany, director of the Associated school Boards of South Dakota, told the Joint Appropriations Committee.

Senate Appropriations Chair Deb Peters, R-Hartford, said lawmakers will hold hearings soon on bills seeking to increase school aid. A final decision will be made when the Joint Appropriations Committee finishes the state budget in March.

Pogany said school boards have cut technical classes for high school students because of the 2011 budget cuts. Schools also are having trouble attracting and keeping teachers because of low salaries, he said.

Local school boards want to provide students with world-class educations, but they are frustrated because schools don’t get enough money to meet high expectations, Pogany said.

Rob Monson, director of the School Administrators of South Dakota, said districts have cut about 500 teachers and other staff since the budget cuts, an average of about 3.3 teachers per district. He said he anticipates about a 30-40 percent turnover in superintendents and teachers in the next few years.

“I believe we’re nearing a crisis in education with leadership in our schools and even more so in the classroom,” Monson said.

Monson said South Dakota students’ scores on national tests have leveled off and he predicted they’ll start to drop in the next three or four years unless schools get more money to support teachers and programs.

“I do believe we are, without fixing the problem, going to see our scores go down,” Monson said.

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

State aid was frozen in 2010 and cut in 2011 as part of Daugaard’s plan to slash most spending by 10 percent. Because of some changes made by the Legislature, the effective cut to school districts in 2011 was 6.6 percent.

The inflation rate would require a 1.6 percent increase in state aid next year, but Daugaard last month proposed a 3 percent boost, saying it’s possible because a one-time state revenue windfall can be used to pay off some state debts early to free up ongoing revenue for next year.

Daugaard’s plan would set spending per student from state and local funds at $4,764 next year. School districts want it raised to $4,805, the level in place before the 2011 cuts.

After a school district collects property taxes using a standard statewide levy, it receives enough state aid to bring total spending to the required level per student.

Sen. Billie Sutton, D-Burke, said 66 of the state’s 151 school districts have decided to raise property taxes by more than the standard statewide levy.

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