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Kirby Advocates County, School Reconfiguration; Schools Don’t Respond

In an observation sure to be popular with the Dakota Free Press commentariat, Joe Kirby says that South Dakota’s problem isn’t too much government, but too many governments:

According to Governing magazine, there are 1,916 total local government units in the state. This includes counties, cities, towns, townships, villages and school districts. In fact, South Dakota has the second most governmental units per capita in the country.

I suspect our number of remaining cities, towns and townships is probably not out of line. I assume they may be mostly necessary and reasonable as is. But our number of school districts seems excessive. We still have over 150 school districts remaining, even after some consolidation efforts decades ago. That’s a lot of superintendent and administrator salaries to pay [Joe Kirby, “Too Many Governments in South Dakota,” Sioux Falls Joe, 2022.08.29].

Kirby concerns himself primarily with unnecessary splits of Sioux Falls. Kirby sense that splitting the city between Minnehaha and Lincoln counties “inhibit[s]… a shared sense of community in our city.” He also dislikes the misalignment between Sioux Falls city limits and the school district boundaries of the Sioux Falls district and surrounding suburban and rural districts. The Department of Education’s Minnehaha and Lincoln maps show Harrisburg, Brandon Valley, Tri-Valley, West Central, Lennox, and Tea Area all claim little chunks of the city of Sioux Falls, while the Sioux Falls school district reaches beyond city limits to claim a dozen or so townships that Brandon Valley, Tri-Valley, and Baltic could fight over. Kirby advocates for one metro government and one school district to rule within Sioux Falls city limits.

Kirby admits he doesn’t know what the ideal number of school districts and counties would be, but he’d sure like the state to talk about it:

We don’t know how many “extra” school administrators and county officials we might have. We also don’t know what the “right number” of counties or school districts might be for a state like ours, with a small population spread over a geographically huge space. We can’t know until someone takes the time to study it. But of course, there’s always a political risk when proposing a disruption to the status quo [Kirby, 2022.08.29].

Such government smart-sizing interests Beth Warden, who turns Kirby’s blog post into a KSFY news story, but the school districts don’t want to talk about it:

Dakota News Now contacted Sioux Falls Public Schools and several surrounding school districts to ask for their thoughts and did not receive a response.

The state of Maryland and Florida have adopted even broader district boundaries, where entire counties are a single district [Beth Warden, “Sioux Falls Government Reform Advocate Promotes Having Only One School District Within City Boundary,” KSFY, 2022.09.01].

Maybe Kirby could get some traction for reconfiguring school districts with the Governor. After all, she’d prefer that Hillsdale College write all the curriculum and indoctrinate all of our students; maybe she’d get on board to have one statewide district, controlled by a team of conservatives hand-picked by the Governor to rubber-stamp the decisions of her Hillsdale College consultant to ensure that all students praise the Snow Queen and her White God.


  1. larry kurtz 2022-09-02 17:07

    Bless his heart.

    How are 65 county seats and their bureaucracies either conservative or sustainable? They’re not; but, it’s the way Republican cronyism and patronage built barricades to democracy by providing benefits of the public dole to those who say they deplore big gubmint in a state that hates poor people.

    The Wanblee district should be in Ogala Lakota County then Jackson should be rolled into Haakon, Jones and Lyman Counties. Stanley and Sully should be rolled into Hughes. Mellette, Bennett, Todd, Gregory and Tripp should be one county. Dewey, Ziebach and Corson should be a county. Butte, Harding and Perkins should be one. Lawrence and Meade should be one, Fall River and Custer should be one.

    Fine. Stanley might be happier being in with Lyman and the others.

    East River is a dead zone: smarter people than i can figure out how to sort out that mess. Everything east of the Missouri River is Cleveland anyway.

    Let’s face it: the only worse place than Pierre or Aberdeen to live is DC.

  2. SuperSweet 2022-09-02 17:38

    There are minuscule cost savings by eliminating those despicable school superintendents by reorganizing school districts. So you might eliminate a school supt by forming a larger school district. Then the supt of the larger school district doesn’t have time to be the elementary principal or high school principal or athletic director, etc…so you have to add back a principal, athletic director, etc…..The larger school district may have larger class sizes which can bring savings if that’s what you want.

    The great benefit of reorganizing school districts is to offer increased educational and co-curricular opportunities for students. And that should be the focus.

  3. All Mammal 2022-09-02 18:35

    I agree with SuperSweet. I was going along with the article until Kirby states, “That’s a lot of superintendent and administration salaries to pay.”
    That’s when my hackles go up. Jesus, Mary, Kacie and Jo Jo. Mr. Kirby, sir, what about the salaries the state pays for our governors dozens of nimrods she has posting online for her or the whole teams of out of state lawyers she has litigating against our very interests? Or how about what she shells out to the Hillsding dong dales church in checks for writing our standards? Ah, or the moucioux bouqioux (?) bucks she gurgles down that aircraft she uses to go on coffee runs?
    I get we can actually attempt a little conservatism here and there, but quit skimming off the schools, dang. If they didn’t have the schools or the clean water people to downsize or bum off of all the time, our lawmakers wouldn’t get to live the life of Rhiley.
    Toss the schools a bone with some meat. Think of it as a great investment in the future that will pay dividends and make us all rich.

  4. Carl 2022-09-02 19:06

    I remember many years ago at Boy’s State then Governor Janklow advocating for school district consolidation. His pet peeve school districts were Pierre/FT. Pierre and Brookings/Sioux Valley. To be fair Sioux Falls wasn’t encroaching on its neighbors quite as much at the time.

  5. Dave Baumeister 2022-09-02 20:01

    This is lunacy. Just because Sioux Falls grows does Kirby think these other proud municipalities should give up their school identities? Where is it written that school districts need to align themselves with city boundaries? The monies that fund these schools belong to the people. Yes, consolidating them as it seems Kirby would suggest may save a few dollars, but that would seem to come at the cost of local identities. If people are willing to pay taxes to fund them, then we should have as many districts as those taxpayers want.

  6. R. Kolbe 2022-09-02 20:11

    Small counties view their county seats as economic development. Their property taxes support County Gov. and support families and people in their community.
    With a court house other businesses are supported such as a gas station, a restaurant. A store an elevator etc.
    Remove that center piece and their is no community.
    In one sense Joe K is correct but as for being a developer of rural community he is dead wrong.

  7. R. Kolbe 2022-09-02 20:33

    School districts are funded by property taxes . When the S F Dist.expansion took place with the city limits the other districts lost some property to be taxed and study for their schools.
    Left unchecked school districts would look like a comet. The concentration would be at the small town with the districts projected away from S F.
    What pays for childrens education? Well it’s Commercial property! Homes with kids DO NOT SUPPORT EDUCATION. A typical home has to
    Pay property taxes 3 countem three years to pay for ONE yes one years Education of a single student from a typical house.
    Commercial pays
    Agricultural property pays
    Households with no kids pay
    A house with 2+ kids gets a FREE RIDE

  8. Arlo Blundt 2022-09-02 21:11

    Kirby is probably correct that the haphazard arrangement of school district and county lines around Sioux Falls will have to be unscrambled at some point. Sioux Falls is sprawling and the suburban areas are filling up with family homes and McMansions on 5 acre lots. Since we fund schools through taxes on real estate, primarily single family homes, districts will fight it out with Sioux Falls development by development. A Metro Council is an interesting proposal but whose interests do they represent? Sioux Falls, Sioux Falls School District, the suburban town governments or suburban districts? Or does that hybrid council turn its’ attention to sewer districts, municipal and rural water, roads and highways? It would certainly be “big government”.

  9. John 2022-09-02 22:24

    Bless his heart! Sweet Jesuz about time.
    Lets lay down a marker – [insert Jeff Foxworthy voice] if your “county” is too broke, too poor, to host a county jail, then maybe you are not a viable county government.
    Poof. That metric takes South Dakota to 25 from its bloated 65 counties. To the 40 counties without a jail – raise taxes or have bake sales. You are no longer a viable economic government. Get over it. Move on. We, the state and federal taxpayer have no obligation supporting bloated, over-represented rural government for government’s sake.
    The Uniformed Judicial System recognized the fallacy of the 1880’s horseback constrained counties 52 ago. There were “county judges” – many hadn’t heard a jury trial in the previous 30 years. (Do the math, that’s 82 years ago.)

    After consolidating counties, then align all school districts to counties. And incorporate / merge part or all of Minnehaha and Lincoln, and Pennington and southern Meade. Wyoming is about the same geographic size as South Dakota and gets by fine with 23 counties. The 1800s metric of a county seat a days buggy ride to the county seat and back to the farm is passe. It’s a quaint history. It need not be our destiny. Can we please move on.

  10. scott 2022-09-02 23:33

    So how many parents/students would open enroll in another district if this happened in Sioux Falls? There are small school districts (district a) that have buses running through another school district (district b) to pick up students in school district “c”. I’m guessing Kirby’s plan would create a lot more open enrollment and students/parent or buses moving students out of Sioux Falls every morning.

  11. Richard Schriever 2022-09-03 07:55

    The Communities of the Sioux Falls metro area already are aligned in mutual planning, transportation planning, and mutual economic development organizations. R. Klobe – There has been very, very little to NO expansion of SF school district boundaries. Only a small area along W 12th was transferred from West Central to SF recently. Otherwise, the boundaries of the surrounding districts have been frozen in place since they were formed in the 1960’s, with the exception of the creation of the new Tea Area district (Split off from Lennox, when the latter community would not support building new structures to support population growth in the northern parts of its district).

  12. grudznick 2022-09-03 10:09

    We need to cut the number of counties in half, and reduce the school districts to 1 per county.

  13. LCJ 2022-09-03 18:09

    Grudge, how long do you want kids to ride on the bus?
    The first legislator to vote eliminating counties or school districts will be the first one voted out of office.

  14. Arlo Blundt 2022-09-03 19:15

    Pupil transportation is very expensive in South Dakota…close to $2 per pupil mile in many rural areas..its a major outlay and a big part of state aid to schools.

  15. O 2022-09-03 19:22

    Is this argument falling into a false assumption that just because upper administration goes away that schools must also go away? Why can’t administrative duties be consolidated and schools still function without a physical administrator breathing down the necks of those buildings? To Mr. Baumeister’s point above, why can’t the upper-administrative duties of a small district near Sioux Falls be absorbed by Sioux Falls, but the small school still retail the small school’s identity? Just someone else now runs their books for them. Why can’t several area schools combine upper-admin to do the same (yet retain their school facilities if appropriate)?

    When the Blue Ribbon Panel met about school funding, the first question asked was how could SD be ranked middle-ish on school funding and be SO low on teacher pay. What are we spending our money on if not teachers? The number of districts was mentioned and quickly moved off. Top-heavy upper administrative costs is the ugly secret of spending on SD schools that reduces our bang-for-the-buck. It is also an influential group that has an serious incentive to keep things the way they are.

    Kirby is on the right track. Children of SD need to be educated, so the following two questions need to be asked: 1). what schools need to be provided to get those students the education they need? and 2) what upper-administration is needed to keep those schools functioning efficiently? Is there really any context within this discussion in which it is correct to say that SD schools should be competing with each other?

  16. Richard Schriever 2022-09-04 08:44

    LCJ – School districts can have multiple attendance centers within a county. Just sayin’. Heck school districts within oine city can have multiple High Schools. The notion of the single central school within a district is reflective of a tribalist culture that permeates SD’s culture and indeed US culture. My University’s football team kicked yours’ butt!! and besides that – My town’s better than your town – so there. Oh, and all D’s (or R’s) suck!!

    What grudz proposes has to do with administrative jurisdiction. Not bus ride lengths. So, for example, Dakota Valley schools, Elk Point-Jefferson schools, and Beresford Schools would all fall under the governance of the Union County School District. Whether he understands that or not is another question. BTW – there once were county school boards – prior to consolidation. They governed the old rural school system. Getting rid of them and creating town/city centric districts led to the occasional violence in resistance to same.

    I remember.

  17. Francis Schaffer 2022-09-04 19:39

    I am wondering what industries are potentially viable for rural counties economic development? What will it take; markets for the products, employees, affordable housing, high speed communication systems, capital investment, water, transportation infrastructure, career opportunity businesses, etc. I hear a common observation that people don’t want to work, many are just lazy and collect welfare and unemployment benefits. Please keep in mind it is entry level jobs going unfilled; mostly low wage, part-time with no benefits and no career possibilities. Just some ramblings from a hopeful citizen who wants organizations to actually address obstacles with solutions. Anyone?

  18. LCJ 2022-09-05 07:44

    RS, multiple attendance centers sights still means multiple kitchens, heating several schools, multiple transportation costs, multiple snow removal costs, etc. this has been tried before with no one being happy.

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