Have any changes been made?  The Scalpel or the Axe

The scalpel, or the axe.   In 2016, we asked the community to support our opt out to allow the school to make precise changes that would reduce our costs, but not directly harm our educational programming or negatively impact our students.  The community supported the opt out at that time, allowing us to take a precise, surgical approach to reducing costs.  Had the opt out been defeated at that time, the reductions would have been more like whacking away at our programming like using an axe.  Because the community supported the school seven years ago, it allowed us to find reductions in expense that have had a small impact on the educational programming and our students.  Some of the adjustments are relatively small, but some of them are significant adjustments to our expenditures.  

  • In 2016, the district contracted a service provider for custodial rags, microfiber mops and rugs in the building.  As we looked at the cost for the service, we decided to make the investment in our own washing machine/dryer and purchase our own custodial mops, rags and permanent rugs.  Our custodians now wash these materials, and outside of the initial purchase costs, replacement of worn out mops and rags has been a minimal cost.  Savings to the district is 3-4,000 annually.  
  • In 2016, our Spanish teacher took a position at another district.  We did not feel like we had the enrollment numbers to support a full time replacement.  At that time, there was an opportunity for “shared services grants” from the state, to encourage cooperation between districts in close proximity to one another.  We applied for the grant with the Baltic School District for a full time Spanish teacher to be split between the two districts.  The state paid the entire cost of the position for the first year, 50% the second year and 25% the third year, saving each district approximately $75,000 over three years.  We continued the partnership with Baltic for two more years.  At that time, Baltic had grown to the point where they felt it was necessary to move that position to full time.  We have advertised for a half time Spanish teacher, but the position remained unfilled.  At this time, our students take Spanish classes via distance learning, through the NSU e-learning center.  Overall, this saves the district approximately $67,000 per year.  
  • In 2017, the food service fund was in the negative by a little over $90,000.  The district worked with Lunch Time Solutions with the goal of breaking even in our food service.  In 2019, we no longer needed to subsidize the food service fund with general fund money.  In 2020, the revenue generated through the food service program was enough to pay for the entire cost of the program.  We expect that to continue in 2023 and beyond.  Savings: approximately $90,000 annually.
  • In 2018, we compared costs associated with refinishing our gym floors with different vendors.  Up until that point, we had spent $9,000 annually in refinishing those wood floors.  After exploring different options, we were able to reduce e that cost to around $2,500.  Annual savings to the district of approximately $6,000.
  • In 2019, we went through the Request For Proposal (RFP) process for our copier lease.  At that time, we had a five year lease that was costing us approximately $36,000 per year.  After the RFP process, our costs are now closer to $12,000 per year for copier services.  Savings to the district is approximately $24,000 annually.
  • In 2019, we went through the RFP process for waste services as well.  Through the process, we were able to reduce the cost of those services significantly.  Annual savings to the district is approximately $6,000.
  • In the summer of 2020, we completed a project to replace the old chiller and replace our fluorescent lights with LED lighting.  Costs of the improvement were paid through the Capital Outlay fund, but we expect to see savings of between $15,000 and $20,000 in the General fund through reduced energy costs.   

In 2016, the Garretson Board of Education made two promises to the community.  The first was that of the $500,000 approved for opt out, that the board would only request as much as the school needed.  Over the five years that opt out was in place, the budget demanded the full amount the first three years, and then our enrollment went up and the opt out was reduced to $350,000.  The board and the district kept its word.  The second promise was that we would continue to look for ways to reduce expenditures in areas that have as small an impact as possible on our students.  The board and the district held true to this principle as well.  As a district, we will continue to explore the different ways that we can reduce our expenditures.  We are optimistic that our community will allow us to continue to look at reductions in a targeted, precise manner with the support of the opt out.

Why do kids leave the Garretson School District?

Our society has become more transient over the last 30 years.  In the past, it was rare that people would move, and long ago, open enrollment was not an option.  At the public information meeting, one district patron questioned whether district officials know why students choose to leave the district.  Another questioned open enrollment trends of those who open enroll into the district compared to those who leave the district.  The implication behind the question “do you know why kids leave the district,” seems to be that there is an effort to hide information from the public.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  We certainly protect the privacy of all of our students, and cannot report information that allows people to identify specific students, however, the general statistics for students leaving the district were reported to the school board in open session at the October 2022 regular meeting.  Any district patron who wishes to see the report can have access to the information in the board packet on the school’s website.  

The second question is the easiest to answer.  The SD Dept of Education keeps statistics for each district with open enrollment in compared to out.  The following chart shows the enrollment data for the Garretson School District since 2000.  Data regarding open enrollment in vs. out was also included, since 2010.  


Total Students

Total Students510526518494475474463477480.43494.34465.34465444.12
Total Open Enroll In50514947485048525958656562
Total Open Enroll Out75708478686673525481847475
Source: SD Department of Education

As we look at that data, there is a positive trend with respect to the number of students who choose to open enroll into the district.  In 2018, the GSD had more students coming in than going out.  While the trend of increasing students coming to the district continued through 2022, the COVID years also saw an increased number of student open enrolling out.  

One can also see that our overall k-12 student population has seen peaks and valleys in the past.  

As far as why our students are leaving, we can talk about the students who left the district from the 21-22 school year to the 22-23 school year.  There were 38 students who left the district.  Twenty two of those students’ families moved out of the district.  Of the remaining students, one student left our school for alternate instruction (home school).  Ten students open enrolled out of the district.  That number is different from the total in the chart above because students only need to open enroll one time and then they are allowed to stay in that receiving district as long as they would like.  Five of those students open enrolled to other larger schools to participate in certain activities.  Five of those students left the district for personal reasons, which may include social issues or conflict with peers, conflict with certain staff members or other personal reasons.  Two students returned to their home district and three students left the district to attend other unique programs based on their specific, individual needs.   

While the district does not have a distinct and formal exit interview process, we do know why our students choose to leave the district.  It’s not a mystery.  They generally tell us.  They leave for a variety of reasons, some of which are easy to understand, and some of which are more complex.  The most common reason that people leave the district is that they move to another community.  Sometimes it is job-related on the part of the parents, sometimes it has to do with other factors.  The majority of students who open enroll out of the district do so for activities.  A much less common reason for leaving are social issues or conflict with peers, and sometimes a student or parent may have an issue with a particular staff member.  There have been times when a student or family wants to keep their reasons for leaving the district private, but more often than not, either the student or the parent tells us why they choose to leave in the case of open enrollment.  

Our goal is to be transparent with our community.  Our books are open.  The entire board packet is placed on our website before each board meeting, including all written reports.  In this case, we could have easily pointed interested patrons to the October 2022 board packet.  That being said, we also need to balance our transparency with the need to keep our students’ private stories just that – private.  Often times, people would like information specific to certain kids, and we simply cannot release it.  Other times, the information is freely available, if you know where to look for it and we would be happy to help anyone find what they’re looking for.    

Does the Garretson School District Have Too Many Administrators?

We would like to thank everyone who came to the opt out information meeting held on Monday, February 27th.  There were many good questions asked, and we are hopeful that many people found answers to their questions.  There are a few questions and answers that require further explanation, as we needed to do some research to parse out the facts that we didn’t have on hand that evening.  

At one point, there was a comparison of our school with the Baltic School District and the Alcester-Hudson School District.  As the question was asked, the patron said he recalled that in 2016, the Garretson School District student count was within two students of both Baltic and Alcester-Hudson, but both of those schools employed fewer administrators than the Garretson School District.  At best, those statements are misleading, and at worst, an effort to pass along misinformation as fact.  The earliest data that is available from the Department of Education’s Statistical Digest is from the 16-17 school year.   In that year, the Garretson School District had a student count of 463, K-12.  The Alcester-Hudson district had a count of 299.52 and the Baltic School District had a count of 498.  While the district profiles do not include the number of administrators in each district, they do contain information regarding the amount that each district paid out for administrative services (the cost for all administrators).  That year, the Garretson School District paid $341,880 out of the General Fund.  While the Alcester-Hudson district had 163.48 fewer students, they paid $427,185 for administrative services, $85,305 more than the Garretson School District!  In comparison with the Baltic School District, at that time, they had 35 more students than our school, but the administrative costs in that district in the General Fund were $375,471, or $33,591 more than the Garretson School District.  When comparing the three districts, the Garretson School District is the most cost effective, by far!  The following table illustrates the differences.  For comparison, I also included data from 21-22.

2016-2017 Administrative Cost Comparison
DistrictState Aid Fall EnrollmentGeneral Fund Administrative ServicesDifference 
Alcester-Hudson299.52427,185$85,305 More Than Garretson
Baltic498375,471$33,591 More than Garretson
2021-2022 Administrative Cost Comparison
Alcester-Hudson336.5$406,718$15,302 Less than Garretson
Baltic561$482,929$60,909 More than Garretson
Source: Department of Education’s Statistical Digest

We have looked at our administrative costs as a District, and compared our costs to the next 10 smaller districts in the state and the next 10 larger districts in the state.  We believe that this comparison is a more accurate look at how we compare, as we are comparing similarly sized districts.  The data comes from the SD DOE State Profile for the 2021-2022 school year, the most up to date information that the state has collected.  The average of administrative costs (*General Fund) for these 21 school districts closest in size to the Garretson School District in the 2021-2022 school year was $486,076.  The Garretson School District’s expenditure in this area was $422,020, or $64,056 below the average. 

District NameK-12 Enrollment Fall 2021General Fund Administrative ExpendituresGeneral Fund Fiscal ExpendituresTotal Admin and Fiscal CostsDeviation from average
Deubrook Area School District 05-6391$249,946$100,249$350,195($276,961)
Gregory School District 26-4404$322,029$95,415$417,444($209,712)
Clark School District 12-2447$329,346$100,556$429,902($197,254)
Ipswich Public School District 22-6418$418,413$35,084$453,497($173,658)
Britton-Hecla School District 45-4452$378,015$133,445$511,461($115,695)
Webster Area School District 18-5530$415,989$109,106$525,095($102,060)
McCook Central School District 43-7395$414,920$120,966$535,886($91,269)
Redfield School District 56-4547$457,781$83,404$541,185($85,971)
Hill City School District 51-2502$390,311$161,736$552,047($75,109)
Garretson School District 49-4462$422,020$146,557$568,577($58,579)
Deuel School District 19-4529$407,174$170,827$578,001($49,155)
Miller School District 29-4447$489,933$108,834$598,767($28,389)
Platte-Geddes School District 11-5499$494,511$113,055$607,566($19,589)
Parker School District 60-4476$467,821$158,860$626,681($475)
Parkston School District 33-3524$529,041$129,643$658,684$31,529
Bon Homme School District 04-2540$551,563$113,697$665,261$38,105
Elkton School District 05-3413$569,579$105,000$674,579$47,423
Chester Area School District 39-1542$501,608$249,021$750,628$123,473
Stanley County School District 57-1413$550,163$270,355$820,517$193,362
Bennett County School District 03-1500$852,638$255,769$1,108,406$481,251
McLaughlin School District 15-2414$994,794$201,095$1,195,889$568,733

Source: SD DOE State Profile for the 2021-2022

As a school administrator, I know that much of the work we do is behind-the-scenes, so unless a person has actually done the job, it’s difficult to know what administrators do.  In fact, if we’re doing our jobs well, everything runs smoothly and the general public never knows the preparation, planning and administrative efforts that led to that positive experience for our staff, students and our public.  To name a few of those unseen tasks, any one of us on the team have worked through crisis moments  with students, families and staff, whether it is mental health, behavior, physical health or trauma-related, those situations can, at times, literally be life threatening crises.   Principals spend time in the classrooms, observing teachers, providing feedback and building their relationship with the students in their care.  Every week, each of us on the team spend time planning and preparing for the various events that come up, whether it is an IEP meeting for a student with disabilities, students support teams meetings, public meetings, co-curricular events, inservice for staff, staff meetings, read across America week, or any other special event that helps students and staff to learn and grow.  Not only do administrators plan those events, but we are active participants while the events are happening. We also need to spend time in communicating with students, staff, parents and members of the community.  Without the time spent on communication, even the most well-laid plans will be unsuccessful.  We make a plan for each and every day, of tasks we intend to get done, only to have that list disrupted by any number of urgent matters that may take minutes or hours – a discipline issue, a family in crisis, school safety issues, a parent or community member who is upset, staff needs or any number of other items that need attention in the moment.  Sometimes that “in the moment” looks like an administrator holding an out of control first grader, who has tipped over tables, thrown chairs, and tried to attack his or her teacher, all the while being hit, kicked, and cursed at, then finally carrying the child to the office.  Sometimes, we even find our selves on the roof, standing in ankle-deep slush, shoveling a path to the roof drains because the slush is causing water to run in through the ventilation system and flooding the kitchen.  We seek out opportunities for the district in the form of grants, professional development and opportunities for our students that move us in the direction of our mission.  We work to keep the district in compliance with all of the rules, laws, policies and directives of our school board and those required by federal and state law (Title IX, Office of Civil Rights regulations, Special education, Budgeting requirements, HR requirements, State accreditation, ADA, Section 504, staff evaluations, State testing, student internet safety, privacy, personnel law, and the list goes on).   We do these tasks and a thousand others when they need doing, all the while working to keep all of the children and staff in our care safe and helping our students to grow not only academically, but also socially and personally, protecting them from distractions and keeping all of us focused on the mission and motto, Growing our Future Every Child, Every day.  All of the members of the administrative team understand that our day to day changes with the situation, and that is part of the reason we like the work.  It’s different every day, and every day, we have the opportunity to learn something new and influence (although sometimes indirectly) the lives of every child in our care. 

The facts speak for themselves.  The Garretson School District spending on administrative services not only appears to be in line with districts our size, but is actually less than the average for those districts.