Leadership in Music

IMG_1133The Garretson School Board recognized Mr. Nick Sittig and Ms. Kelby Robinson as our March PRIDE award winners!  Mr. Sittig and Ms. Robinson have an incredible impact on our students through their direction of our music programs.

Recently, both music instructors asked their students to provide some feedback with respect to what the music programs mean to them.  Students were asked to finish the statement “music makes me feel…” and were also asked to write about the pros and cons of being part of the music program.  These are some of the things our students said:

  • Music makes me feel confident, proud of myself, dance and love myself.
  • Music makes me feel like I’m the only one on earth.
  • Music makes me feel happy when I’m down.  It puts my frown the other way around.
  • Music makes me feel understood.
  • To me, band is a way for me to express my creativity and love for music.  I enjoy the music we get to play and the friendships you make with other musicians.  Not only are you making music, you are making good memories.  I wouldn’t change a thing with our band.
  • Things I like about band: The feeling of accomplishment when you play something you never thought you could.
  • I do really enjoy band, I have always loved music and the fact that I get to help create music with my friends from some of my favorite movies and symphonies gives me joy.  Sometimes, when I’ve had a rough day or week, it is relieving to express myself through music.  The kids in band are like a family.  We may pick on each other but we are also protective of one another and its always nice to have somewhere to fit in.  I am overall a reserved person, and being in band has kind of pushed me out of my bubble by giving me the opportunity to step up.  I have also been taught to believe in my abilities considering that I am very critical of myself.

Our music programs make a difference in the lives of our students.  Ms. Robinson and Mr. Sittig both accept kids where they are, and work hard to push them to perform at levels that they may not even realize are possible.  Congratulations, Ms. Robinson and Mr. Sittig! You are part of the PRIDE of Garretson!

Most Staff See Changes as Positive

Earlier in the year, we gathered data from a number different populations in order to use that data to identify areas of strength and opportunities for growth and improvement in the District.  Staff were given the opportunity to share their thoughts through a survey.  The results of the survey were shared with the Board of Education at the Board Retreat on January 25th, 2017.  The Board has continued with work that was started in January by revising the District’s official goals, which will be used as the root of a new strategic plan.  Over the next several weeks, we will share survey data that identifies both areas of strength and possible areas in which we may focus District improvement efforts.

Surveys for staff included a scale where they could select one of four possible answers between “strongly disagree,” and “strongly agree.”  All of the scaled responses are included in the PDF below, but three survey points stood out as areas in which most of the staff either agree or strongly agree.

  • 85% of staff agree or strongly agree with the statement that positive changes are being made in our school.
  • 91% of staff agree or strongly agree with the statement that administrators in our school challenge staff members to be effective.
  • 86% of staff agree or strongly agree with the statement that it’s ok to discuss concerns, frustrations or worries with administration.

Some of those possible areas for improvement include the following:

  • 79.6% of staff agree or strongly agree (20.4% D/SD) with the statement that in our school, professional expectations are clear.
  • 68.2% of staff agree or strongly agree (31.8% D/SD) with the statement that administrators in our school are aware of what goes on in classroom.
  • 64% of staff agree or strongly agree (36% D/SD) with the statement that in our school, all students are held to a high standard of behavior, no matter “who” you are.

One could spend a great deal of time trying to “interpret,” or “guess” what people’s intent is when they answer survey questions.  We choose to take the answers at face-value.  To us, the staff survey yielded the positive information that, in general, staff believes we’re making positive changes in the schoolhouse, and that our administrators are encouraging staff to improve, while maintaining open lines of communication.

Those possible areas for improvement also tell us something important – while the majority of our staff believe that expectations are clear, and students are consistently held to a high standard of behavior, we may have some work to be done regarding communication and consistency of expectations for both students and staff.  Likewise, we know that each of the administrators in the building would like to be out among our students and staff more frequently.

Overall, we appreciate the feedback that our staff has given through the survey, and we look forward to incorporating this data into the strategic plan.  If you’re curious or interested in the list of questions we posed to the staff, and the percentage responses for those questions, click the link to the PDF document below.

Garretson School District Staff Survey 2016-2017

February Garretson PRIDE – Julie Snyders

FullSizeRender.jpgThis month, the board honored Julie Snyders with the District’s PRIDE award.  Julie was nominated by Elementary Counselor Janie Lundberg.  Ms. Lundberg’s nomination speaks for itself:

It is indeed an honor to recommend Julie Snyders for the Garretson PRIDE award.  This nomination is in recognition of her dedication to help meet the needs of the Garretson community.  Julie is one of the most self-less people I know!  She is my silent partner, and work whole-heartedly to bring blessings to others.  Julie is the type of person that does not seek recognition or praise.  She prefers that her contributions remain anonymous.  In fact, I am sure she would not want me to recognize her for this award.  However, when a person is as wonderful as Julie, they deserve to know how much they are truly appreciated, respected and admired!  When our students have a need, she is always there to help.  She often uses her own money to purchase food, warm clothing, shoes, coats, boots, hats, mittens, etc. for others.  She never asks for, nor receives, anything in return.  Julie is such a remarkable, positive, loving person.  She is one of those rare people that stands out because of her values and integrity.

Julie is also the backbone of the Garretson Angel Tree.  She generously gives her time and effort to this program.  She has enthusiastically taken it upon herself to assure that the children in our community have a bright and merry Christmas.  She volunteers, organizes, makes phone calls, lines up donors, shops for items and makes deliveries.  The Angel Tree is a success due to Julie’s tireless efforts.

I have enormous respect for Julie.  Because of her, many lives have been changed, including my own.  Julie is my inspiration.  She has touched my life and made it better.  She is a beautiful person with a heart of gold.  Julie has a send of PRIDE in her devotion to our community.  It is with great pleasure that I recommend Julie Snyders for the Garretson PRIDE award.

The nomination speaks to the work Julie does in our community more eloquently than I ever could.  Julie Snyders humbly makes a difference to kids and families in our community.  Congratulations on the award, Julie, but more than that, kudos to you for making a difference!

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.



Recent Legislation Decreases the Cost of the Opt Out

The SD legislature has taken historic action this year with respect to school funding.  While they are still working out the details of the funding formula, we do know that both houses have passed HB 1182, Governor Daugaard’s proposal for a new revenue stream for k-12 education.  Governor Daugaard is expected to sign this bill into law this week.

The bill increases the SD sales tax to 4.5%.  This extra half penny will be used for two purposes.  The first is to increase average teacher salaries in the state, and the second purpose is to provide nearly 40 Million dollars in property tax relief.  It remains important to note that our school will be required to use any additional funds for the purpose of increasing teacher salaries, and it will not be something that can be used to cover our district’s $500,000 shortfall in the general fund.

The property tax relief portion of HB 1182 will decrease General Fund  levies across the state by approximately 12%.  Based on preliminary information from the Governor’s office, we expect that the levies for the General Fund will decrease by $0.198 per thousand for ag property, $0.454 per thousand for Owner-Occupied property and by $0.972 per thousand for commercial or “other” properties.  In a previous post, we have published information from the County Auditor’s office regarding how much the opt out would cost each of us.  In light of the decreases in GF levies, those numbers will be off-set by the above amounts.  What that means to property owners in the district is that the opt out will actually cost each of us less than originally anticipated.

The original calculation for ag property was that the levy would increase by $0.84 per thousand.  With the tax relief built into HB 1182, the increase in the levy will actually be $0.642 per thousand of taxable valuation.  In a previous post, we explored the idea of the taxable valuation per acre in our district.  That average taxable valuation is $2,631.  That means that the average 80 acre section of land has a taxable valuation of just under $210,500 (sale price is definitely higher, but we’re talking about taxable valuation).  Using the levy adjusted by HB 1182, the tax on that 80-acre section of land will go up by slightly over $135.  In an 80-acre section of land, the difference between our original estimates and the estimates after the tax relief from HB 1182 is just under $42.

With the property tax relief, the increase in the levy for Owner-Occupied property will go up by $1.736 per thousand, as opposed to the original figure of a $2.19 per thousand increase.  For every $100,000 in taxable valuation, homeowners will pay an additional $173.60 if the opt out passes.  Our original figure was that property owners would pay $219 for every $100,000 in taxable valuation on their home.  For a home valued at $150,000, the original estimate of increased taxes was $328.50.  When the Governor signs HB 1182 into law, the increase in taxes caused by the opt out for that same house will be more like $260 per year.

The passage of HB 1182 will also blunt the increase in property taxes for businesses if the opt out election proves successful.  The increase in the levy for business will be $3.708 per thousand, rather than $4.68 per thousand in taxable valuation.  For every $100,000 in business valuation, business owners will see a smaller increase – approximately $370 rather than $468.

When Governor Daugaard signs HB 1182 into law, it will not solve our fiscal challenges.  This law will, however, reduce the property tax impact if voters in our district pass the opt out.

Ms. Buchholz’s Blue Dragon Pride!


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