Garretson School Board Considers Opt Out

In small-town South Dakota, it could be said that the school’s future is the community’s future.  The same could be said about Garretson.

The Garretson School District offers nearly 500 students in grades PreK-12 a well rounded education along with numerous extra and co-curricular opportunities.  The positive impact made by both the school and community is evident on a daily basis – they both need one another.

The Garretson School District now finds itself at a crossroad that many other school districts in South Dakota have already faced.  In those communities throughout the state, the local taxpayers have had to step in due to the State’s refusal to fund schools at a level that maintains the educational program.  Presently, 45% of school districts in the state have had to rely on local property tax opt outs in order to fund their local school programs.  School districts that have opted out range in size from large districts like Sioux Falls and Harrisburg to middle-sized districts like Tri-Valley and Beresford as well as smaller districts like Clark and DeSmet.  Many school districts in the state have done all that they can to maintain programs in the face of a budget freeze in 08-09 and a budget cut in 09-10 school years.  School districts that have tried to get the community to opt out, but were unsuccessful, inevitably were required to cut programs in order to remain solvent.

The Garretson School District is no different.  In the six years since the State froze and then cut funding to schools, the Board and Administration in Garretson have taken steps to preserve programming and maintain small class sizes.  The District has used reserve funds to pay for on-going expenses.  The District has taken advantage of a law allowing some general fund expenses to be paid for with Capital Outlay fund money.  The District has reduced staff when opportunities have presented themselves.  All of those measures have been successful in allowing this District to maintain a quality educational program while spending money from the reserves.  The District has come to the point where the reserves are no longer able to supplement the General Fund and action must be taken.

At Monday’s board meeting, the School Board discussed the District’s financial situation and possible solutions.  Unfortunately, we are at the point that requires a balanced budget.  The General Fund reserve is depleted, which means either increasing revenues or decreasing expenditures.  There are two ways to increase revenue in a school.  The first is to increase the number of students who go to the school.  The second is to opt out, where the community pays higher taxes in support of the school.  If we balance the budget by reducing expenditures, it translates into a dramatic reduction in the number of staff who work in the school.  This would result in much larger class sizes and fewer programs and an overall detriment to our students, our school and our community.

The board will continue the opt out discussion at the January board meeting, including a possible decision to opt out or reduce programming to balance our budget.  In the meantime, we are beginning to develop a committee that will work to communicate with the Garretson school community regarding the school’s financial needs and possible solutions.  Any community members interested in serving on the committee are encouraged to do so.  Please  call the administration office or email if interested in serving on the committee or if you have questions.  Thank you for your continued support of the Garretson School District.

Guy Johnson