Schools, lawmakers discuss funding ideas on special ed
PIERRE — The president for the South Dakota School Superintendents Association suggested Wednesday a way state lawmakers could add money to the extraordinary cost fund that helps school districts cover their special education needs.
Watertown superintendent Jeff Danielsen proposed the Legislature divert 10 cents from the $1.42 special-education tax levy many school districts charge property owners. Ninety-nine districts currently used the full levy, two were at zero and 49 fell in between.
Danielsen offered the concept as he ended testimony to the Legislature's interim committee exploring changes to the extraordinary cost fund.
"I would love a solution — please," Rep. Mary Duvall, R-Pierre, said. She is committee chairwoman.
"Not asked for, but you got it anyway," Danielsen said as he finished.
The Legislature makes annual appropriations to the fund. The amount gradually climbed from $781,723 for 1997 to $2,478,645 during the next decade but eventually stalled.
Lawmakers increased the amount to $4 million in 2014.
The Legislature's target is to pay 39 percent of special education. Total local needs last year hit $170.7 million, with the tax levy paying the majority.
In Bon Homme school district, 70 students needed special education during 2017-2018, according to special education director Barbara Lindquist. She said the district, which serves Tyndall, Tabor and several colonies, went from about 800 enrollment three decades ago to about 500 now.
She's already cut two paraprofessionals and a half-time special education teacher. She has five and one-half teachers and three and one-half paraprofessionals.
"We're stretched very thin," Lindquist said.
Bon Homme pays $6,000 per month for an interpreter for one student, she said. Hiring another next year means contracting to bring someone from Sioux Falls.
Unlike the general-education levy, there's no financial brake limiting how quickly a school district raises the special-ed levy.
There isn't a restriction either prohibiting transfers a school district could make from its capital outlay account to its general education account to its special education account.
Brookings superintendent Klint Willert said his district's special education students went from 394 in 2012 to 571 last year.
"You don't know what you're going to have every year. You don't know what to project," Brookings special services director Wendy Otheim said.
Lawmakers meet again July 26 at the Capitol.