School Superintendents: Cuts Hurt Students.
On today's Dakota Digest we're continuing a two part series looking at ten percent across the board to K-12 education being considered in Pierre. Yesterday, we heard from students who traveled to the state capital in opposition to the 10 percent cuts. Today, SDPB's Charles Michael Ray speaks with superintendents from across the state on what the cuts would mean for school districts.
As Lawmakers in Pierre wrestle with the State Budget a whole bunch of high school students in Sioux Falls took up a different sort of wrestling. The state wrestling tournament was held late last week. Schools from across South Dakota sent some of their best athletes to take part. But at least one school district was absent - Faith. The Western South Dakota town is home to the Faith Longhorns. But the school district cut its wrestling program years ago. Faith is an isolated town in a sparsely populated area so, there is little tax base to support school activities. Faith schools have no industrial arts, no business courses, no art teacher, no drama, no debate, no one act plays, no science fairs, no advanced chemistry and the list goes on. Faith Superintendent Elsie Baye Admits that students in Faith Schools don't have the same opportunities as their peers in other districts.
"You can't solve problems by throwing money at it but when you get to a point where you are lacking some of the same equal opportunities then I do think we should come in to help," says Baye.
Baye says test scores show Faith students still get a good education. But she says the governor's proposal to add a ten percent cut on top what has already been trimmed is unacceptable.
"How long do you keep beating a broken horse, because you know eventually there is a point of diminishing returns," says Baye.
East of the river Larry Johnke (JOHN-key) is the Superintendent for the Irene-Wakonda school district. He agrees that these cuts will affect students. He says teacher and staff reductions will result in fewer resources available at each school.
"Ten percent is going to hurt students more than it's going to hurt anybody else, because it's going to force us to cut back on other things besides positions. The bad thing is you as we look down the road will we ever catch back up - and, tough time," says Johnke.
Irene-Wakonda schools are considering going to a four day week in an effort to save money. Jonke says there are many advantages to the 4 day week. One is that it will help save the local economy. He says the four day school week will save enough money to keep one teacher on staff that would otherwise be laid off. Jonke says Irene Wakonda is facing a double whammy of job losses if the cuts go through. Education cuts will mean a loss of jobs in schools, and health care cuts will hurt the local nursing home.
"And probably the school and nursing homes are the two biggest employers in both of these types of communities so if it's going to mean programs, positions, people in either the school or the nursing home it's going to have an economic effect on the two communities," says Jonke.
If the district goes to four days it would follow in the foot steps of the Custer School district on the other side of the state. Custer already is at a 4 days week. Tim Creal (CREE-ul) the Superintended for Custer Schools says there is no fat left to trim. He notes that students graduating today are competing in a global market place. He says they need to be not only as good as students from other states, but also from other countries. These cuts will put students behind.
"I hear people talk about basics, we got to get back to basics and my comment is that the basics now are not the same as they were 25 or 30 years ago - particularly in the area of technology," says Creal.
While small town school administrators are concerned their students won't be able to compete with the Chinese, Koreans and Germans, they're also worried the cuts will put Rural students at a further disadvantage to kids in big city schools. But Urban schools aren't any happier with the cuts. Pam Hollman is the Superintendent in Sioux Falls.
"It's devastating,": says Hollamn. She adds " In the Sioux Falls School District a ten percent cut equates to removing ten-million dollars from the budget."
Sioux Falls is loosing about 100 teachers to retirement this year - Hollman says those positions may not be refilled - leading to fewer educators for the same amount of students. Teachers in Sioux Falls could also see a four percent cut in salary, which will have an impact on the local economy. In Rapid City teacher layoffs and staff reductions are also possible. Superintendent Tim Mitchell says the district will do all it can to make the cuts work.
"But we're certainly getting to the point when we start talking about 10 percent cuts that is a tremendous loss of revenue and it has to affect the instructional side of the house. And it could have some negative repercussions," says Mitchell.
Those close to the process in Pierre say lawmakers appear to be in favor of ten percent cuts in lieu of razing taxes or tapping reserve funds. But the session still has over a week to go. There is a bill circulating that would put the issue of an education tax to a state wide vote in a 2011 election. Meanwhile, looming over this whole debate is the South Dakota Supreme Court case that alleges the State Government isn't fulfilling its constitutional obligations of providing a quality education to all citizens. There is no set date for when that decision will come down. But it's clear that regardless of the outcome of this legislative session-this issue is far from over.
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