The Blue Ribbon Task Force met for the final time last month (Oct. 29) to debate and confer on the final recommendations to put in their report to Gov. Dennis Daugaard, which is due to him by Dec. 1, on the group’s findings.
The Task Force’s final stances on the many funding topics reviewed can be broken down into two categories: What We Know and What’s Still in Question.
First, What We Know:
- $48,000 will be the average teacher pay goal recommended. The group used $48,000 as the target for average teacher pay throughout the study and stuck with it in the end. It was noted the average pay target should be viewed as a fluid.
- Include a 30% benefits package variable in the funding formula calculation for the average teacher pay goal of $48,000.
- A recommendation to phase in fund balance caps over a three year period with a sliding scale for the cap percentage based on district enrollment. An oversight board would also be established to review proposals from districts that need to exceed the cap in a fiscal year.
- Consensus was reached to shift dollars from the pension levy to the general fund with the notation that the dollars are not considered new money.
- There was agreement to propose review by Gov. Daugaard of equalization of all other revenue or only equalize only new other revenue and hold harmless those districts that currently have other revenue resources.
- An expansion of virtual learning opportunities, possibly through Northern State University, for students throughout the state was recommended.
- Develop plan to incentivize optional, shared services opportunities between districts.
- English language learner (ELL) funding and the sparsity factor should remain intact as they are now within the formula.
On to What’s Still in Question:
- There wasn’t a consensus on the total amount needed to fund the increase in average teacher pay; amounts of $75 to $100 million were discussed as possibilities.
- The revenue source needed to fund the possible increase is also unclear as the discussion included a raise in sales tax, which a one percent increase was estimated to generate $206 million in revenue if year round, $72 million if a seasonal four month (June-Sept.) increase and $107 million through a six month (May-Oct.) increase. However, the use of existing funding dollars was also referenced as a way to improve teacher pay.
- Those existing dollars referenced included a shift in $.50 of the capital outlay levy to the general fund, which could generate an estimated $37 million, but the task force did not agree on this recommendation.
- A proposed student-teacher ratio that would be included in the funding formula could not be agreed upon. Discussion ranged from setting the ratio at 14-to-1 to making it a sliding scale of 12-to-1 to 15-to-1 based on district enrollment.
Blue Ribbon’s work has concluded, but was the first step along the way as Gov. Daugaard’s budget proposal – set for Dec. 8 – and legislative session will also mold a potential proposal to add new money to public school funding.
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