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



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!

Opt Out – FAQ

At the January 11, 2016 board meeting, the Garretson School Board passed a resolution to opt out of the property tax limitations, with a public vote to be held on March 22, 2016.  We have put together a list of frequently asked questions to help the public  to have accurate information to make an informed decision.  Here’s the list:


GF = General Fund: This is one of two major funds that schools use.  The General Fund is how the school district pays most of the “operational” costs incurred as the school district provides education for our students.  Eighty percent of this fund is used for paying salaries and benefits to employees.  It is funded through a combination of state and local money.  The levy for this fund is set by the legislature.  Different property types are taxed at different levels.  Main source of revenue for this fund is the “Per Student Allocation.”

General Fund Reserve: This is the “cash on hand” in the General Fund.  Any part of the budget that is unspent stays in “the reserve,” which is carried over from year to year.  The reserve is often times reported out as a percentage of the expenditures budgeted for the year.  Because local taxes are collected twice per year, schools see two large spikes in revenues when property taxes are paid.  We need to have approximately 18% in our reserve in order to pay all of our bills between those two revenue spikes due to the local property tax collection.

CO = Capital Outlay Fund: This is the second major fund that schools use.  The CO fund is used for buildings, large pieces of equipment, technology and infrastructure, and textbooks.  This fund is designed for the purchase of those things that will last for some time.  This is funded through local property taxes.  The levy is set by the Board of Education in July each year.  The levy is applied equally to all property types.

PSA = Per Student Allocation: This is the amount of money that the State of South Dakota pays school districts to educate each child.  In 2009-10, that amount was $4,805.  In 2010-2011, the PSA was cut by 8.6%, and has been creeping up slowly since then.  State law requires that the PSA increases by 3% or the rate of inflation, whichever is less.  In the 15-16 school year, the PSA rose back up to 09-10 levels, $4,877.

CO Flexibility: Money in the GF and CO funds generally can only be used to pay certain expenses that are outlined in state law.  In response to the freeze and then the reduction to the PSA in the 09-10 and 10-11 school years, the legislature eased some restrictions on the CO fund, allowing some expenses that were traditionally paid for in the GF to be paid out of the CO fund. This flexibility is set to expire in 2018.

BRTF = Blue Ribbon Task Force: This was a group that Governor Daugaard put together in the summer of 2015 to study the teacher shortage in SD.  The Group made recommendations to the Governor, who will propose legislation based on the task force’s final report.  In essence, the task force set a target of raising the average teacher salary in SD from $40,000 to $48,000.  Indications are that any legislation will have “strings attached” that will require school districts use any money from this group to increase salaries of present staff.  According to the Governor’s Chief of staff, this funding increase is not intended to “close holes in local budgets.”  link toBRTF final report here

  1.  What is an “opt out?”

In South Dakota, the taxing authority for local governments (school board, city, county) is spelled out in state law.  There are limits defined in state law that sets maximum tax levies for these local governments.  There is  a provision in the law that allows those local governments, with the consent of the people, to “opt out” of the tax limits.  After the Governor and legislature froze and then cut school funds in the 09-10 and 10-11 school years, our elected leaders have stated that schools could adjust to the “new normal” by opting out if local communities want to preserve programming in their schools.  Currently, 45% of school districts have had to opt out in order to preserve programs provided to students in South Dakota schools.  Sometimes, people think that this is only a “small school” issue.  Several districts in our region have been forced to opt out in order to preserve programs.  The list includes: Harrisburg, Sioux Falls, Tri-Valley, Beresford, Brookings, Canistota, Madison and Sioux Valley.  Some are large and some are not, and each community has programming that local taxpayers have committed to saving. 

2.  What about the bus barn and the athletic complex – doesn’t that mean that the District has plenty of money?

This opt out is about the money from the General Fund – money that is used to pay for the operational program of the school district.  General Fund money pays for people and programs.  In our budget, approximately 80% of the GF budget is spent on employee wages and benefits.  The Capital Outlay (CO) fund is used for facilities and more permanent fixtures in the district (buildings, textbooks, large pieces of equipment, technology).  With a few exceptions, money from the two cannot be interchanged.  The money for both of those projects came from the CO fund, which cannot be used to pay employees.

Even though the District was able to legally borrow money to complete these projects, the money in the CO fund is not able to be used for day-to-day operations, including salaries.  They are two completely separate funds.

3.  I didn’t get to vote on the athletic complex and I didn’t get to vote on the bus garage.  Why didn’t I get to vote?

School boards are a great example of representative democracy.  This means that the public votes for someone to represent them in the decision making body.  The decision making power of local boards (and city councils and other forms of local government) is spelled out in the laws of the state of South Dakota.  The decision to move forward with those building projects was made by the board at that time, within the context of the community at that time period.  The people who represent the community on the board saw a need in the district, and they took steps that were within their legal power and authority to fulfill that need.  Essentially, the public did vote on the projects – by electing the board members who served on the board at that time and saw a need to build those facilities.

Part of the reason that we have this representative democracy rather than direct democracy is the need to get things done in the community.  If the school had to put every decision up to a vote in the community, nothing would get done.  Instead, communities select their representatives through a democratic process.  Those representatives serve on the board and make important decisions for the community.  The law in South Dakota also requires local governing boards to be open with the public about their discussions.  As per state law, the agenda is always posted at the school at least 24 hours (and usually 72 hours) before the meeting to ensure that the public has a chance to find out what the board will be discussing.  We also post the agenda on our website prior to the meeting for those who cannot come up to the school to see what the board has on the agenda.  After the meeting, we try to keep the public informed by posting the minutes of the meeting on our website and we also publish the minutes in the Garretson Gazette.  Our school board members are interested in what the public has to say, and we invite anyone who is interested to come to our meetings.  They are held the second Monday of the month in the school’s library.  Meetings begin at 5:45.

4.  Why is it that all of a sudden, our school is in bad shape financially?

This situation has been a long time in the making.  The revenue for the General Fund in SD is primarily determined through the PSA (defined above) or the amount of money schools are paid to educate each child in the district.  There are some other local sources of revenue as well, but the majority of the funding is through the PSA times the number of students served in the district.  The roots of our financial situation can be traced back to three major causes: 

  • The Legislature and Governor have created part of our local crisis.  In 2009-10, the legislature froze the PSA, and the following year, the PSA was cut by 8.6%.  The impact on schools was disastrous.  Across the entire State, schools laid off staff, consolidated and opted out.  A this point, over 45% of schools in the state have been required to opt out in order to maintain programs.  Other schools were forced to consolidate to preserve programs.  After those cuts were made, the PSA has been creeping back up.  Just this year, the PSA rebounded to the level that it was in 09-10.  
  • Garretson School District did not cut staff at this time, but did all they could to maintain programming and small class sizes.  After the State decreased their support of education through funding cuts, the Board and Administration started spending money out of the General Fund reserve and paying for some GF expenses through the CO fund, as allowed by law.  After making cuts to education funding, the legislature authorized “flexibility” in the CO fund as a way to “soften the blow” of the cuts to education funding. The reserves have steadily gone down over the past 7 years – a little at first, and as funding has not kept up with the school’s expenses, it has gone down by a lot in the past three years.  Likewise, we have used more and more of that flexibility in the CO fund.  Last year we spent $85,000 on GF expenses and this year, that number was increased to $125,000.  
  • The last major reason for our current situation is that our student enrollment has gone from a high of 535 (2002-2003) students down to approximately 475 students (today).  Because the GF in schools is funded based on the number of students served in the school, this has led to a decrease in GF revenue.  One way to increase revenue for the school is to increase the number of students, but that is something that is not likely to happen in the short term. 

The best long term solution to increase revenues in our district is through growth in the number of students our district serves and growth in our community.  One of our goals in the school is to be warm, friendly and open to everyone who might be interested in coming to school in our district.  We share with parents what we believe are the greatest things about going to school in Garretson.  We hope that our community is also open, warm and helpful to those who may want to move to Garretson or start a business in town.  As the number of students increase, so does the revenue for our school.  As the community tax base grows, the need to fund our school and community projects can be shared more broadly.  

5.  What steps have been taken to keep the district financially strong?

The School Board and Administration have known that the reserve would eventually run out of money if our student count did not increase and the State did not take steps to fix the shortfall created by cutting the PSA.  Every year since the Governor and Legislature cut the PSA, we have been optimistic that the State would come up with a viable solution, and every year, a plan from the state just does not materialize.  The board and administration took steps to ensure that the reserve lasted as long as possible before asking the community to support the school and maintain our programming through an opt out. The following steps have been taken in the past few years to extend the lifetime of the reserve:  

  • One of the options that the legislature provided for schools when they cut funding in 09-10 was to allow certain General Fund expenses to be paid out of the Capital Outlay fund (insurance, fuel, etc), and our district has done so.  Each year, since those cuts, some GF expenses have been shifted to the CO fund.  Last year, we budgeted $125,000 of these allowable GF expenses to be paid out of the CO fund.  By law, the option to do this expires in 2018, and those expenses will move back into the General Fund.  
  • Pre-school programming is offered at our school, but starting in August 2015, there is a cost to parents for the service, unless their child qualifies for a program that will pay the tuition.  This has saved the district $15,000.  
  • When we have had staff members leave the district, we have done our best to look at our programs to determine if there is any way to offer the services while not filling the position.  Last year, we did not replace two full time teaching staff members, and also after two aides retired, we did not fill those positions.  This saved the district nearly $130,000.
  • Starting in 2015-16, the employment of food service employees was transferred to Lunch Time Solutions, the company that manages our school lunch program.  In our district, the food service program operates at a loss, and we have decreased the estimated loss from $50,000 to what is projected to be $15,000.

The district’s financial position is improved by each of these changes, but we still face a shortfall of over $500,000 in the General Fund.  

6.  We tried an opt out before, and it failed –  will this district ever support a tax increase?

The Garretson School District did propose an opt out in 2006, and it did not pass.  There were two votes on the opt out.  The first one failed by only 9 votes. The second time, it failed by 20.  Both elections were close.

7.  Why do we have so many sports?  If the district just focused on academic programming, the district would be ok. 

When we consider this question, we must consider the impact that cutting activities programming would have on our student body, our school and our community.  If we choose not to offer any sports, FFA, music and fine arts activities, but neighboring districts continue to offer those programs, will students choose to continue their education in our school district, or would many of our students be likely to transfer to a neighboring school where they have the opportunity to participate in activities that many people consider to be a part of the complete educational experience?  

The extra curricular programming in the Garretson School District makes up only 5% of the school’s budget.  Cutting any one program would save the district around $10,000 in coaching stipends and expenses.  Overall, the activities portion of the budget is only around $160,000.  When considering this cut, we would also need to think of the impact of the cut in terms of the loss of students who would open enroll to a community whose school could support extra-curricular programming.

The impact of cutting activity programs would also be felt throughout the entire Garretson community.  The spirit of the community is embodied in our school, and seen in our school activities.  We’ve all felt the excitement when “our team” does something great, and “we” earn a hard-fought victory on the field, the course, the court or the mat.  We get excited when our marching band comes down the street in our community celebrations and parades.  We take pride in our FFA program, a program that is known as one of the very best programs in South Dakota and recognized as one of the best in the entire nation.  What is the impact of losing these programs?  The “WE” of Garretson isn’t’ just for high schoolers.  The “WE” of Garretson isn’t just “the school.”  The “WE” of Garretson is our entire community – built through camaraderie developed by being part of “us” at our school events. We believe that these programs, as much as the academic programs shape who we are, as people and as a community.  We will do what we can to preserve them.  

8.  If the Blue Ribbon Task Force’s proposal comes through, we should be good, right?

Even if the Blue Ribbon Task Force is successful in finding a source of new revenue to pay teachers more, that money will not be allowed to to used to cover an existing shortfall of revenue for the schools.  We will be required to use that money to increase the salaries of existing teachers, with the goal to increase the average salary of staff in each school district by $8,000.  Unless we cut even more significantly into our programming, we will still have a structural shortfall in our budget.

9.  I’ve heard our taxes are the highest around.  Where are our taxes compared to other school districts?

Total property taxes depend on where your property is located.  The county has a general levy of $3.424 per thousand in taxable valuation.  Cities and Townships also levy property taxes to maintain services that those entities have deemed important.  School levies for the districts around the Sioux Falls Metro area depend on a number of different factors like whether or how much bonding has been done, if an opt out of the tax limits is in place.  

Of 14 SF-metro area schools(2014 taxes payable in 2015), only 5 have a lower rate for taxes paid on Ag land (we are lower than Baltic, Brandon-Valley and Dell Rapids).  Four of area districts have a lower rate for owner-occupied property (we are lower than Baltic, Brandon, Dell Rapids, and Tri-Valley).  Only 3 out of 14 area schools have a lower tax for all other property classifications. (Source: City of Brandon)

 10.  Does our school have too many administrators?

We can look at our school and compare with others to see if we spend too much money on administration.  When we look at our student enrollment and look at the next ten larger school districts and the ten next smaller districts (according to the most recent data available from the SD DOE), Sixteen of those 21 schools spend more money on administration than our district.  Most schools of similar size spend more general fund money on administrators than the GSD.  (Source: SD Department of Education – profile data.)

11.  Is this “forever,” or is there a time limit?

Since 2002, school districts can opt out for a specified period of time.  Our board is looking at five years.  If things change after the opt out is approved and the district does not need the full amount, the Board could request a smaller amount be collected by the County Auditor.  After the five year period, the board can decide whether to proceed with another opt out, or if it should just be allowed to expire.

12.  Will all property classes be taxed equally?

South Dakota law requires that different property types are not taxed at the same rates in an opt out.  Based on 2015 property valuation, the rates for each 100,000 requested in the opt out is taxed at 0.17 per thousand for Ag property, 0.44 per thousand for Owner-Occupied property and 0.94 per thousand for all other property types. 

13.  How much does the district need?

This year, the District plans to spend approximately $380,000 from our General Fund reserve.  We also saw fewer students than we projected, resulting in approximately $30,000 less in revenue than we planned.  We have another $125,000 in General Fund expenses that are being paid out of the CO fund (and our ability to use this flexibility ends in 2018).  An opt out of $500,000 would allow us to maintain the current academic and co-curricular programs.  

It is important to note that this DOES NOT increase the size of our staff.  It does not add any programs (or reinstate any programs or positions that have been cut), and it does not allow for any staff members to receive a raise.  The ONLY thing that this opt out would do is preserve the present level of services and programming in the school.  Any increases in salary and benefits for employees would need to be realized through the increase to the PSA or through legislative action taken on recommendations from the BRTF.

 14.  How much will that $500,000 opt out cost me, individually?

The answer depends on what type of property you own.  Based on 2015 property valuations, we calculated some possible costs.   Ag land for which the taxable valuation is $1,000,000 will see annual taxes go up by $841.  A home owner whose home’s taxable valuation is $150,000 will see an annual tax increase of $350.74.  All other property owners (businesses) would see an increase as well – for every $100,000 in taxable valuation, those taxes would increase by $467.66 annually.  For the average homeowner in the city of Garretson, the cost would be less than a dollar a day.  

15.  Are we almost done paying down any of our debt?

The 2002 building and renovation project was funded through bonds.  We will be finished paying for those bonds in 2020, and at that time, the levy will be removed.  The bond levy generates approximately $315,000 per year to pay for the bonds.  Debt in the CO fund will continue to be paid over the next 10-15 years, as we have re-financed these CO certificates based on favorable interest rates, which will save the district thousands over the life of the repayment schedule.

16.  What happens if it doesn’t pass?

If the opt out doesn’t pass, we would need to make cuts to programs.   In schools, programs mean people.  The average cost per teacher in our district is right around $50,000.  We would expect that we would have to cut at least 8-10 teaching positions in order to balance the budget.  We would look for other ways to save money as well, but the lion’s share of those cuts would be to personnel.  We are certain that this kind of reduction in programming would result in:

  • Increased class sizes at both the elementary and secondary levels.  We would need to consider combining classes that had typically been split into two groups, possibly even as large as 32-33 kids would need to be in one section.
  • Reductions in the number of courses offered at the middle school and high school.  Our students would need to rely on distance learning technologies for classes that most schools are able to offer in a face-to-face manner.  A significant number of elective courses would need to be offered via the computer.
  • Fewer opportunities for our students with respect to activities

One of the three roots to the problem itself is that our student numbers have shrunk in recent years.  We do need to think of the reasons why families and students choose Garretson over schools like Brandon-Valley and Dell Rapids

  • Opportunities for small class sizes
  • Opportunities for teachers to know them well, and for our students to know our teachers well
  • Opportunities to participate in multiple activities and find success in those activities
  • Opportunities to participate in the arts and athletics without penalty
  • Opportunities to participate in a wide variety of both required and elective courses with REAL teachers in the classroom

If families and students do not experience the “small school benefits” or do not believe that our school is meeting their needs, parents will simply enroll their students in a neighboring district.  More parents open-enrolling their student to another district translates to fewer students, which leads to less revenues to work with, which results in more cuts, which may drive more students from our school.  One very real question is how long it will take the cycle of programmatic cuts and declining student enrollment before the district is no longer viable.