Tom Oster presented several options. Bruner Photo

Recommendations-School Not Ready for Consolidation

Newell News

NEWELL- “We are not talking consolidation. We are not ready to shut her down,” emphasized Newell School Interim Superintendent Don Kirkegaard at a recent Special School Board meeting. However, the school will be looking at some changes in the next couple of years. Student numbers are down from last year, from 269 to 224 and looking at 219 for 2024-2025. With each loss of students, there is a loss of revenue for utilization of the school’s budget.

Retired superintendent and former Secretary of Education Tom Oster was available at the special meeting to discuss ways to cut costs and adjust for a more secure future for the Newell School District.

He began by listing facts about the district:

  1. There are 100 fewer students than 10 years ago.
  2. There is almost the same certified staff as 10 years ago.
  3. A loss of 100 students has reduced the General Fund (GF) revenue by $750,000.
  4. A loss of 100 students has reduced Capital Outlay (CO) revenue by $229,000.
  5. Current CO revenue = $842,000 (This will drop to $820,000 next year)
  6. Current CO debt payment is $394,000
  7. Current CO transfer to the GF is $200,000
  8. Net CO revenue for normal expenses is $248,000
  9. Current fall enrollment of 219 students
  10. Students open enrollment into the district is 5
  11. Students open enrolled out of district is 34 (2-yr. old data)
  12. If student numbers continue to drop, consideration should be given to the possibility of eliminating an administrator. However, this could adversely affect teacher effectiveness.

As he continued to explain recommendations that are based on standard procedures in districts the size of Newell, he began by saying there is a potential for over-staffing. However, he said to take what he had to say with a “grain of salt.”

Oster targeted several areas for reduction. Top areas included the open custodial position, eliminating some certified positions by 2024-2025 or through attrition, eliminating a secretarial position (which is not practical, according to Kirkegaard, because of the number of buildings in the system), and eliminating some assistant positions. He pointed out that Food Service, according to law, must be self-sustaining and meal prices should be set to make it self-funding.

There was lengthy discussion surrounding the idea of asking the taxpayers for optout. According to the South Dakota Department of Revenue an optout can be used if a school district cannot operate on the revenues generated by taxes. According to the website:

“Opting Out of the Tax Limitation

Opting out is to impose an excess levy above any current limitations. If the school district cannot operate on the revenues generated by the maximum allowed for the general or capital outlay funds, then the school district may choose to “opt-out” of the limitations.

General Fund

The general fund is funded through local effort (levies imposed on property taxes) and monies from state aid as determined by the funding formula. If a school opts out of the general fund, the excess levy shall maintain the same proportion represented in the mathematical relationship at the maximum levies. Each land class (ag, owner occupied, other/commercial) will have its own levy. “

If the school district decides to pursue an optout, a community meeting will be held to explain the process. Kirkegaard explained that it is vital to keep the community involved with the processes the school will be going through and that he cautions the school board to go slow.

“We don’t want to let anyone think we will have a second-rate education,” he said.

Oster had a few other recommendations added to those he had already shared. These included writing letters to every parent of open enrolled students asking why they left, how the district could help, and if they would consider returning. Also, letters could be sent to home schooled parents. And especially, the school board should create a district 5-year plan.

Kirkegaard will have recommendations by December’s board meeting Dec. 11 at 6 pm in the Multi-purpose Room.