Senate Bill 5 – Putting School Districts’ focus back on educating students. Not lawsuits.

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If you’ve been following any of the pre-filed legislation coming out from Pierre so far this year, you noticed Senate Bill 5, as introduced by the School District Boundary Task Force, and primed in the Senate by State Senator Deb Peters.

I asked Deb to give us some background on the measure, and why it’s specifically needed. Specifically, unbeknownst to many in South Dakota, in several instances school districts have taken to suing each other, as they fight over their tax base.  According to Senator Peters:

It’s about boundaries: it’s to put the focus back on educating students.Deb Peters

The Sioux Falls School District has been gobbling up high value land away from surrounding districts and making them insolvent.  For example, the Tea area school district has spent over $100,000 on lawsuits to defend their tax base.  West Central gave up $380,000 of taxable land just last year in order to avoid a lawsuit and Tri-Valley has spent considerable amount of money defending their tax base.  If we aren’t going to talk about consolidation of schools and we are going to keep the school districts intact; then we need to protect the tax bases to ensure the school districts stay solvent.

School Districts’ priority should be educating students – not protecting tax bases to stay solvent in order to educate our students.

This may not be the end of legislation on this topic, but it’s a significant start.

13 Replies to “Senate Bill 5 – Putting School Districts’ focus back on educating students. Not lawsuits.”

  1. Michael Wyland

    The need to keep tax boundaries consistent is both a current budget and long-term issue. School districts use their tax base as the guaranty for issuing bonds. If district boundaries are insecure, bond underwriters will be less likely to want to do business – or will insist on higher interest rates to compensate bond purchasers for the additional risk.

  2. Troy Jones

    In particular, we need the entire legislature to once and for all solve/reorganize the district boundaries around Sioux Falls. The Tea/Lennox/Sioux Falls fiasco in particular needs to be addressed with a focus to make the Tea District viable.

    For the record, I’m a resident of Harrisburg so my interest is purely as an outsider who thinks Lennox and Sioux Falls has ganged up on the little guy in the middle.

  3. duggersd

    Tea and Lennox at one time were part of the same district. Some time ago they split. At that time it would seem to me that the two districts would have come up with a split of the tax bases that at one time belonged to the one district. In looking at that map, it seems kind of strange that Tea has some tax base land in small sectors. Also, if an agreement was made, has one of the schools tried to change who gets what? And I do not understand how one school district such as Sioux Falls can just take an area that belongs to another school district. Sioux Falls if I understand things correctly is locked into what land they can have for a school tax base because other school districts have that land.

  4. Troy Jones

    Dugger,

    At the end of the day (me editorializing), the minority (people desiring to split and have a school district centered around Tea) were told by the majority (Lennox) “here is the deal.” It was barely take it or leave it for a majority of the district approved it including Lennox whose interest was to preserve tax base for their school without regard to the viability of the Tea School District. The inequality of relative tax burden (whether measured by taxation rates or students and doesn’t include the reality Lennox had existing infrastructure and Tea had none) was glaring when approved. Because Tea is a rapid growing school district (young families commenting to Sioux Falls), the inequality has grown literally exponentially and will only get worse.

    I’m at a loss how any disinterested party (not from Tea or Lennox) can look at this and discern this is acceptable from an equity or interest of students perspective.

    I know there is a perspective disinterested parties need to stay out (my natural default position) because it came from a majority vote of the former aggregate Lennox School District. But, since it is the State that is ultimately responsible under our Constitution for education of all children in our state, washing our hands of this is in my mind a dereliction of duty.

  5. whats not

    Well lets look at The tax base,If you put all these surrounding schools under one tax base and one supertindent.Problem solved .Cosolidate all the schools that would be the republican way.This way all boundaries are mute as it comes to the big district,You republicans would love this.

    1. springer

      Actually, whats not has a reasonable idea here! Make it one mega district, with the individual schools having a principal but only one superintendent for the whole thing. Each school would get a share of the district tax money based on the students attending that school.

  6. Troy Jones

    Springer,

    I don’t support that for three reasons:

    1) Competition is good
    2) Tea is not Sioux Falls. Or Harrisburg. Or Brandon. Or Hartford. One big district would dilute parents ability to affect things for the better.
    3) The savings in Superintendent salary would be eaten up by assistants and inefficiencies.

    I’d actually be more open with breaking up Sioux Falls into multiple districts than combining with the neighboring districts.

    1. MC

      Breaking the Sioux Falls into multiple district, is an interesting idea. I can’t say I support or oppose the idea. I would need more information how it would work, as many of the schools share support services. Like a centralized kitchen for lunches

    1. Troy Jones

      I know very well the growth of those school district, especially Harrisburg which is my district. But, their tax base per student and projected student is huge compared to Tea. Tea is an anomaly in the state and deserves special attention.

  7. Alan Aker

    We also have boundary problems in the state’s fastest-growing county, Meade. In the north, landowners are petitioning to get out of Sturgis and into Faith. Piedmont Valley is split between Rapid City and Sturgis. Black Hawk – Summerset – Piedmont has a population about as large as Huron or Pierre, and we’ve had trouble getting either district to build a middle school or high school here. It makes it hard for our kids to participate in activities and hard to build a sense of community among new residents.