What do teachers do at “inservice?”

We have three days during the school year where the students do not come to school, but our staff report for staff development, or inservice.  We do our best to plan a variety of different learning activities for our staff, and we want to be sure that the time is well-spent with teachers learning things that can have an impact the way we teach our students.

In January, our staff attended the West Central Winter Symposium, a training day in which attendees are able to choose the training sessions that best suit their needs.  This year was the second year that we attended the event, and it was bigger and better this year!  Seven schools committed to the day – Garretson, Baltic, Tri-Valley, Madison, Colman-Egan, Montrose and West Central.   One of the hallmarks of this day-long training event is that the presenters are generally teachers and administrators who are doing the work in schools.  Our teachers report that learning from our peers is a positive experience, and also presents great opportunities for building a professional network of peers.

We are proud of the staff at the Garretson School District who took the risk to be a presenter for the program.  We had six presentations attributed to our staff:

  • Amy Thompson (speech therapist) and Julie Hersom (first grade) teamed up to offer “A Multi-Sensory Approach to Phonics.”
  • Alyxa Hoefert-Veldhuizen (kindergarten) presented “Class Dojo (a behavior management app) and Brain Breaks in the Classroom”
  • Jodi Neugebauer (second grade) and Teresa Johnson (elementary principal) paired up to tell others about our implementation of Inquiry-based learning and Genius Hour in the elementary classroom
  • Kelsey Buchholz (HS english) shared research and practical knowledge regarding Movement in the High School Classroom
  • Dave Mudder (PE) presented to peers the many strategies he uses in the physical education classroom in “Shoot from the Hip”
  • Chris Long shared lessons learned in Parent Communication through ICU and Teacher-Initiated Communications.

We are proud of our staff members who were willing to take the risk to present to their peers!  The strength of professional development days like the West Central Winter Symposium comes from teachers from all of these different districts sharing what they know works well in their classrooms.  We’ve got experts doing great things in the classrooms in our district.  The Symposium was a great opportunity for them to share that expertise and build a network of professional peers that will help us to serve our students more effectively in the classroom!

Applications for Free and Reduced Lunch Help the District

 

People sometimes wonder if they should apply for reduced priced meals at school.  It might be that they’re too proud to accept the help that their family needs.  It might be that they feel someone else has higher needs than they.  What people might not know is that if their family qualifies for the program, our school benefits from that as well.

There are a number of programs from the Federal Government that our school uses in which funding levels are determined by the percentage of our students who qualify for free or reduced price meals.  Many grants from charitable organizations also depend on the percentage of students in the District who qualify for assistance in the school lunch program.  There are times when we see a fantastic grant opportunity, only to read through the award qualifications and realize that not enough of our students participate in the program to allow us to apply.  If you’re curious as to whether your family may qualify, you can find the eligibility guidelines here.

If you have questions about the program or how your application might help our school, please call Guy Johnson at the school office (594-3451).  Help us out!  If you think you might qualify for the program, pick up an application and apply!

Governor’s Ed Bills Will Reduce Impact of Opt Out

Governor Daugaard signed a number of bills last week that will have an impact across the State of South Dakota.  At least two of these bills will also make a difference locally in the Garretson School District – not by making our need to pass the opt out  less, but by reducing the necessary tax increase if it passes and  by providing the district the funding to remain a viable and competitive employer in the region around Sioux Falls.

One bill, HB 1182 was the bill that will increase sales taxes in the state by 0.5 cents, with some of that money intended to increase teacher salaries and the other portion intended for property tax relief.

Another bill, SB 131 has much more detail than 1182.  This is the bill that defines the formula that will be used to determine the total General Fund needs that school districts have, based on the number of students.  This bill has many components, one of which was the abolition of the Pension Fund Levy ($0.30 / 1,000).  The intent of the legislature was to combine the current GF levy and the Pension Fund Levy into one tax.  The bill also changes the way schools will tax for the Capital Outlay Fund.  Essentially, this bill will slow the growth of the CO fund to the rate of inflation, or 3%, whichever is less.

On Thursday of last week, the Legislature set the tax levies for the General Fund and the Pension fund (remember that SB 131 combined the two levies into one tax).  When we calculated the tax increase for the opt out, we worked with the county auditor’s office to come up with the figures and did not take the tax relief into account.  The table below shows the difference that we can expect if the community supports the opt out in the March 22 election.

Opt Out levy Changes 2016

The numbers in the chart above are all reported as a “dollars per thousand in taxable valuation.”  Using these updated figures, we have recalculated the impact of a yes vote on the opt out.  The following chart shows good news regarding the impact of this legislation and how it will affect people in our community if the opt out is approved.property tax relief opt out costpic  We will find out more in the coming weeks regarding exactly what these two bills mean for schools financially.  These calculations were made based on the best data available, and we will adjust as necessary as more information is released from the SD Department of Education regarding the funding formula and tax relief.  If our community chooses to support the opt out, the cost will be less than initially anticipated.

 

 

Ms. Buchholz’s Blue Dragon Pride!

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February’s board meeting offered us the chance to honor one of our school’s best.  KelseyBuchholz was chosen as the District’s February PRIDE award winner.  She was nominated by another member of the high school staff for the impact she makes on a daily basis in our school  Her nomination speaks for itself:

Mrs. Buchholz impact on the Garretson School District was immediately a positive one when she joined our school for the 2013-2014 school year.  Her high level of enthusiasm and student-basted approach to learning brought a noticeable energy to our school.  Mrs. Buchholz introduced Journalism back into our curriculum and quickly turned the weekly school publication into something the school and community look forward to each Friday.  She also became certified to teach AP English, so that GHS could continue to offer the course to our seniors.

In addition to all the positive aspects she has brought to the classroom, Mrs. Buchholz is quick to offer her services in other areas as well.  She is the assistant volleyball coach, the assistant golf coach, the yearbook advisor, and is a member of the staff advisory committee.  Mrs. Buchholz is one of those people who tries to make a difference by being involved.

Congratulations on your accomplishments and thank you for all you do for our school and community.  You are a tremendous asset to both.

Kelsey Buchholz makes a difference in the lives of our students.  She makes a difference in the culture of our school.  She makes a difference in our community.  Mrs. Buchholz is Garretson PRIDE!

Can We Wait?

One of the comments I have recently heard in conversation about the District’s opt out is that we could wait at least another year before we are in the position where we really “need” to opt out.  The fact is that we can’t wait – unless we are comfortable with reducing the programming and services that we offer to students in our school.  The reasons are complex, and revolve around the structure of our General Fund Reserve and also the nature of how property taxes are collected.

First, let’s talk about the General Fund (GF) and its reserve.  In schools, most of the money for the general fund is provided through the Per Student Allocation (PSA).  Much of that money comes through local property taxes, and depending on how much revenue is generated locally, the State of SD provides the remainder to fulfill the funding need based on the number of students we educate in the school.  Property taxes are collected twice per year, and our school receives those large payments in the months of November and May.  During those months between tax payments, expenses do not go down for schools.  We need to have the GF reserve at approximately 18% in order to pay our bills, or to “make cash flow,” without borrowing money.  The chart below gives you an idea of when we see the peaks and valleys in our General Fund as the local tax revenues are collected.

GF cash balance

Second, The Fiscal Year for school and the tax year do not line up very well.  The tax year starts January 1.  Each of us make two property tax payments, one in the spring and one in the fall, based on the taxable valuation of the property in the previous year.  The Fiscal Year for schools starts July 1.  Money collected in the first year of the opt out is for the first half of the tax year, but it is the second half of the school year.  This results in only half of the opt out value being collected the first school year the opt out is in place.  In our case, that means that the first year of the opt out, the district will collect $250,000 (spring 2017).  In our situation, we expect that our fund balance will be 24% at the end of this school year.  There is still some room to maintain programs while deficit spending if we are able to collect the $250,000 for the first half of the first year of the opt out – meaning that next year’s budget would require us to spend down the reserve to that 18% level that still allows us to pay our bills on time, and we would also use the first half of the taxes collected in 2017.  The following year, our reserve would be at the necessary 18% to pay the bills between tax collections, but we would also need to rely on both payments from the opt out in order to maintain services and programming in the 2017-2018 school year.

The time is now.

Failure of this opt out means we would have to cut staff to balance the revenues and expenditures in our budget.  In schools, programs and services means staff.  These same staff provide students with academic, social and co-curricular opportunities.  Reductions in staff may lead to fewer students in our school.  Fewer students means a continuing loss of revenue.

Our biggest fear is that this may result in a cycle that leads to more and more cuts.  If, as a community, we want to maintain our present levels of services and programming for our students, we simply cannot afford to wait.

Many ask “what can the school do to help our community grow?”  The answer is that we can maintain our programming at a level where our school is a viable option for students and families when they consider Garretson as a community in which to live.  There are definite benefits to living in this community and attending our school.

How Much Will the Opt Out Cost Me?

There has been much discussion in our school district since the Board passed the resolution to have an election on March 22 for the Opt Out.  Many questions have been asked, and we’ve provided a number of answers in a previous blog post.  One of the most common questions that seems to be asked is: “how much will this cost me, personally?”   The answer to that question is dependent upon how much property you own, and what the taxable value of that property is.  The best numbers we have are based on the 2015 property valuations.  The information for your specific property can be found at the Minnehaha County website.  When you get to the website, you either need the street address of the property, or the legal description of the property.  This will allow you to calculate the increase in taxes based on your property’s present value.

Based on 2015 property values, approval of the opt out would change the levies  as follows:

  • Ag property – will increase by $0.84 per thousand in taxable valuation
  • Owner-Occupied property – will increase by $2.19 per thousand in taxable valuation
  • Non-Ag / Utilities property – will increase by $4.68 per thousand in taxable valuation

The following document includes a spreadsheet that outlines what these levies mean based on a variety of possible property values.

Opt out levies $500,000

The median home value in Garretson is around $140,000, according to US Census Data (2010-2014 American Community Survey 5-year estimates).  At the rate of $2.19 per thousand, the average homeowner would see an increase in taxes of $306.60 per year.  The cost to the average homeowner would be around $25.55 per month.

Our school district is made up of 88 square miles.  Of which, 49,598 acres of that ground is classified as Ag property.  All of those acres have a total taxable value of $130,490,777 (2015 property valuation).  Based on those numbers, the average value of an acre of ag ground in our district is $2,631.  If we apply the levy of $0.84 per thousand in valuation, each of those acres will see an average increase in taxes of $2.21 per acre.  We must keep in mind that ag land values, for tax purposes, are not based on the actual value of the land if it were sold, but is based on a productivity formula, so some land is more valuable and some is less valuable based on the type of soil and possible production.

As we continue to discuss this important community issue, it is my goal to ensure that people have access to the best and most accurate information possible.  If you have questions regarding the the opt out, the levies or finances of the district, I encourage you to contact me, and I will be happy to help.

Guy Johnson

 

 

January Pride Award Winner

Pride award – Sheila Matthiesen

Congratulations to Sheila Matthiesen, the District’s January PRIDE award winner!  Sheila works in our school’s food service as server and cashier for Lunch Time Solutions.  She was nominated by parents in our District.

IMG_1649The parents who nominated Sheila noted the impact she has on their children through her caring attitude and approach to her job.  The text from her nomination speaks for itself:

Each Day, Ms. Matthiesen warmly greets each student with a smile and BY NAME as they come through the lunch line.  She makes every student feel welcomed and valued.  She even knows most, if not, all of the students’ lunch number by memory!  This week, when our family’s  account went below zero, Ms. Matthiesen allowed the second of our three children to eat with the promise that our third child would bring a check for them both.  As a mom, I am comforted to know that there are people at school looking out for my kids’ best interest…even in the lunch line! I am thankful for Ms. Mattheisen and all she does for the Garretson School and our students.

We offer our congratulations and our thanks, to Sheila for having a positive impact on our students and our school.  Keep up the great work!

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 Guy.Johnson@k12.sd.us 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

School District Works to Repair Storm Damage

When the Garretson community was hit by severe winds on June 22, much of the community experienced significant damage.  The School District was no exception.  Just as the rest of the community has worked to repair the damage to homes and trees, we have been doing the same at the school.   There have been many questions asked in the community regarding the damage to our school, and what we’re doing about getting things set straight for our students.

The most significant damage is still visible at the athletic complex, where the winds blew down four of the six light poles.  When one of the poles failed, it damaged the crow’s nest as well as the main bleachers at the complex.  The storage building was leveled, minor damage to the concession stand and visible damage to the fencing around the perimeter was also evident.  Upon advice from the School District’s insurance adjuster, a structural engineer was called in to verify the safety of the two light poles that still stand at the field.  The engineer discovered hairline cracks in the base of those two poles as well as cracking in the concrete foundations for all six light poles.  The structural engineer’s recommendation was complete replacement of all the light poles at the complex.

At this time, we are making progress on the repairs at the complex.  We have received quotes from a number of companies to repair the damage, but as of Thursday, July 23, we are still waiting on quotes to replace the lights at the field.  Most of the repairs are straight-forward, but the lights are a complex project in itself.  The company to replace the lights will also have to safely remove the existing lights without causing more damage, and then they will need to pour new foundations and install the sixty and eighty foot poles.  When the quotes come in, we will know more about the timeline for the replacement, and if necessary, we will make adjustments to our events held at the complex at that time.  We are on the schedule with various companies for repairs to the concession stand, the storage building, fence and the bleachers.

Storm damage at the school was limited to mostly to trees, fencing and damage to the roof.  Some windows were also damaged on the south side of the building.  One of the broken windows resulted in extreme pressure in one classroom, which damaged the brick and mortar structure around the interior upper perimeter of the room.  Another classroom had a window pushed in by the wind, which led to pressure inside the wall, and sheetrock repairs will need to be made. The same structural engineer who inspected the lights also inspected the exterior of the building and the classroom with the damaged brickwork.  As the engineer went about his work, he noted that the exterior of the building is sound, and the intense pressure from the wind likely lifted the roof deck a few inches to cause damage to the top two rows of bricks in that classroom.  While we are still waiting for a quote on those rooms, the engineer assured me that repairs of this sort are somewhat routine for large construction companies, and will not take much time when the work begins.

There have been a number of questions asked about the roofing project and the loss of materials during the storm.  We feel fortunate to be working with a quality roofing company on the roof project.  John Murren, owner of Roof Systems, Inc. has coordinated well with us to ensure that any damage done to areas outside of our planned roof replacement has been repaired, and the roof replacement project continues on schedule as insurance companies work out coverage for the loss of materials.

Our biggest concern is getting all of the work completed by the time school begins.  I am thankful that we have good people working in our maintenance, building and grounds departments.  Dave Gaddis and Gary Hanson have both worked hard since the storm to ensure that we are coordinating the repair efforts and also working through our normal preparation work over the summer in order to get ready for our students.  As I have talked with our insurance adjuster, one of the comments I have heard frequently is that we have good insurance coverage, and the necessary repairs will be covered.  The school district will be responsible for a portion of the cost for the repairs, so there will be some financial impact to the school as the total cost of the repairs are tallied up, but we do not expect the impact to be severe.   We will continue to work with our insurance company and local contractors to get the repair work done so that our school and our community get back to normal as quickly as possible.

Guy Johnson