The Rapid City School Board wanted to collect another six million dollars each year for five years to maintain current staff and and programs. Rapid City voters rejected that request. The Rapid City School Board is thus reversing a funding position and raiding capital outlay to free up four million dollars to raise teacher pay:
Jim Hansen, president of the Rapid City Board of Education, said the budget move represents a change in direction.
“The teachers are our strongest asset in the community,” he said. “We have to do something for them” [Seth Tupper, “Budget Tactic Frees Up $4 Million for Teachers,” Rapid City Journal, 2015.07.25].
Certain head-in-the-sand legislators who defend Pierre’s chronic neglect of K-12 funding will point to this capital-outlay shift and say, “See? Local districts set teacher pay, not us! Local districts have all the freedom and funding they need to pay teachers whatever they want! It’s their choice!”
But “choice,” says Sophie, never happens in a vacuum. Choice has consequences:
[Hansen] added that the use of capital outlay funds for general-fund expenses is “not a sustainable fix” because it means less money will be available for building needs.
“The effects on buildings and other expenses will happen immediately,” Hansen said. “We have 31 properties that we have to take care of.”
Jackie Waldie, a former teacher who runs a 718-member Facebook group called Reviving Rapid City Schools, said the budget shift is a consequence of voters’ June rejection of a property-tax increase to pay for schools. The budget crisis is causing school leaders to prioritize and make sacrifices, Waldie said, and she’s glad the board is temporarily sacrificing buildings in favor of teachers [Tupper, 2015.07.25].
I can’t guess how many walls will go unpainted, thermostats not fixed, or computers not replaced. But we can try to guess the salary impact for teachers. Waldie says the four million could translate into “multiple thousands of dollars in raises for each Rapid City teacher. But recall that Superintendent Tim Mitchell said losing the six-million-dollar opt out would require cutting 85 staff. If those were all teachers, and if the intent of the capital-outlay shift is to preserve those 85 jobs, then keeping those 85 teachers at the average district salary of $41,562 (and that’s from FY2014) would take $3.53 million. If the remaining $470,000 is applied to salary increases for the 890 teachers in the district, then every teacher gets another $530.
In its first formal hearing, the Governor’s Blue Ribbon K-12 panel heard from education expert Michael Griffith that South Dakota K-12 schools spend 41% more on capital outlay per student than the national average.
Multiplied by 130,000 students, that’s $52 million. Divided among 9,200 teachers, that’s a $5,700 increase in teacher pay, which would raise us from last in the nation to a tie with New Mexico for 43rd… and still leave us $1,000 behind North Dakota, $7,000 behind Minnesota, and $9,000 behind Wyoming, which continues to raid Rapid City’s teacher pool.
The capital outlay shift may move Rapid City toward more competitive teacher pay, but it won’t get Rapid City to parity with Wyoming, and as board president Hansen said, it’s not sustainable. Take money from capital outlay, and your district will give up buildings and equipment.