In South Dakota, K-12 school districts receive state funding based on how many students are enrolled as of the end of September. The new teacher-based formula enacted in 2016 gives each school $77,852 per teacher, but the number of teachers used in the formula is not the actual number of teachers in the school but the number of teachers the state thinks each school should have based on enrollment, ranging from one teacher per twelve students at schools with 200 or fewer students to one teacher per fifteen students at schools with 600 or more students. Based on my read of the state’s estimates, schools will be allotted $5,353 per student (a combination of local dollars and checks from Pierre). Actual calculated need ranges from $5,190 at the biggest schools to $6,488 at the smallest schools.
The state estimates the Tri-Valley school district will have 905 kids enrolled, meaning Tri-Valley will receive state aid based on a calculated need of $5,190 per student. Based on the payments from the state to Tri-Valley’s general fund in July and August, it appears state aid provides about 60.4% of that need, or about $3,120 per student.
So if for some reason a bunch of kids moved to Tri-Valley by September 29, the last school day of this month, they would each boost the amount of money Tri-Valley receives from the state by $3,120. Even if some of those kids moved away a month later, or even if a bunch of the Tri-Valley locals didn’t like the new kids and transferred out to Chester or Baltic in October, the enrollment count and state aid are locked in on September 29.
So suppose Tri-Valley found a way to get a bunch of currently non-enrolled kids to check in at the school for just one day, September 29:
The above letter, posted by Megan Raposa and Dana Ferguson in a bombshell article yesterday, went out to home-school parents from Tri-Valley superintendent Mike Lodmel inviting them to bring their kids to Tri-Valley for just one day, September 29, to boost their school’s official enrollment and funding. In return for the $3,120 in state aid that each child’s one-day enrollment would bring to Tri-Valley, Lodmel promised each child a new laptop.
The letter doesn’t specify what kind of laptop, but at $3,120 per student, the home schoolers wouldn’t have had to settle for Chromebooks from Wal-Mart. Tri-Valley could have split the money 50-50 and bought these one-day students top-flight Macbook Airs.
Could have. The press and the state got wind of Tri-Valley’s scheme, and the kaibosh swiftly ensued. Governor Dennis Daugaard’s office called Tri-Valley’s free-laptop-for-one-day-of-school offer “a tactic to try to scam the state funding formula.” The Governor booted Lodmel from the state school finance accountability board to which Daugaard appointed Lodmel last year, and his spokesman Tony Venhuizen signaled we’ll see legislation to prevent any such future scam. Rep. Sue Peterson (R-13/Sioux Falls) said Tri-Valley tried to “blatantly defraud the state and the taxpayers” with this “act of bad faith” and “breach of ethics.” Attorney General Marty Jackley is checking the law books.
Lodmel told the press yesterday, “We’re just going to drop it.” Now we’ll see if Tri-Valley feels the need to drop their superintendent.