South Dakota’s new laws raising teacher salaries received their first tests Thursday as school districts appealed accusations of violations to a government panel.
At stake were many thousands of dollars in state aid.
Districts that didn’t meet one or both accountability measures set by the Legislature in 2016 could lose half of the additional money they were supposed to receive.
Lawmakers increased the state sales and use tax rate to 4.5 percent to pay for the raises. The tax had been four percent since 1969.
Legislators established the state School Finance Accountability Board to determine whether violations occurred and what types of waivers to recommend.
Thirty-six school districts, mostly from rural areas of South Dakota, didn’t meet one or both of the two accountability measures set by the Legislature.
The accountability board began sorting through the cases Thursday and finish hearing them today (Friday).
The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Appropriations makes the final decision Dec. 4.
The five board members are Brandon Valley superintendent Jarod Larson, governor’s aide Patrick Weber, Mobridge-Pollock school board member Eric Stroeder, Belle Fourche schools business manager Susan Proefrock and Huron superintendent Terry Nebelsick, who is chairman.
The board’s findings Thursday were:
Colome, Lemmon and Sanborn Central submitted incorrect data but didn’t violate laws.
Corsica-Stickney and Hitchcock-Tulare also made errors in reports but didn’t break laws either.
Edgemont, Kadoka, Lyman, Pierre and Rosholt committed minor violations because of unexpected resignations, enrollment declines, changes in benefit spending and other unforeseeable events.
Highmore-Harrold, Kimball, Henry and Gayville-Volin violated laws but received waivers without conditions because each took additional action to further increase teacher compensation.
Jones County committed a violation and must re-open its teacher contracts by Jan. 1, 2018, to provide $11,189 of additional compensation.
White River violated a requirement and must re-open teacher contracts to add $30,743 of total compensation by Feb. 1, 2018.
Plankinton violated both requirements and re-open teacher contracts to increase total compensation $53,886 by Feb. 1, 2018.
Herreid fixed one alleged violation with corrected data but violated the other requirement and must re-open teacher contracts to add at least $7,604 in total compensation.
Clark committed a violation and was directed to work with the state Department of Education to determine whether $2,400 more already granted per teacher exceeded the inflation increase the Legislature gave schools in 2017.
Willow Lake violated a requirement and must re-open teacher contracts to add $39,137 of total compensation by Feb. 1, 2018.
Canistota violated a requirement and must re-open teacher contracts to add $23,406 in total compensation by Feb. 1, 2018. Nebelsick and Weber abstained because family members work in the district’s administration.
Wall committed a violation and must re-open teacher contracts to spend an additional $27,144 in total compensation by Feb. 1, 2018.
New Underwood broke both requirements. The state board said New Underwood must re-open teacher contracts to spend $22,000 on total compensation to meet one standard by Feb. 1, 2018. Board members said they recognized New Underwood’s budget couldn’t meet the other standard.
Garretson violated a requirement and must re-open teacher contracts to spend “approximately” $62,000 in total compensation by Feb. 1, 2018.
The board returns today at 8:30 a.m. CT to consider waiver requests from Gettysburg, Faulkton Area, Bowdle, Edmunds Central, Doland, Faith, McLaughlin, Newell, Summit and Sisseton.
At one point Thursday, Nebelsick asked state Sen. Deb Soholt, R-Sioux Falls, to explain legislative intent of the pay package.
Soholt had co-chaired the 2015 task force appointed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard on teacher pay and helped pass the teacher-pay package in the 2016 session.
She said Thursday school districts and taxpayers needed to understand the Legislature and the governor expected “a new level of accountability.”
“I will tell you unequivocally it was for teachers, period,” Soholt said.
In addition to more state aid for many districts, those with smaller enrollments needed to be creative on the expense side to free revenue for higher pay by sharing services with other districts, she said.
South Dakota had the lowest teacher pay in the nation at the time. It still is at or near the bottom among the 50 states.
Nebelsick said the board would meet by teleconference Nov. 27 to review the documents from this week’s meeting before sending them to the appropriations committee.