Debate On School Reserves

The candidates for governor (at least the 2 that were invited) held a debate at the State Fair recently and one of the topics discussed dealt with the budget reserves held by the school districts in the state.

According to Gov. Rounds, the schools had $138 million sitting in their general funds and he took issue with that figure.

“So if they’re taxing you and not spending it on their kids but putting it in their savings account, let’s talk about that, because it ought to be going for the kids instead of into a checking account from year to year.”

Now I find several problems in regards to Gov. Rounds’ concerns over that figure, first off what choices do the schools have? The legislature has refused to address any long term funding options for the schools and without money in reserve they could be looking at severe shortfalls in the future that would require dipping into those reserves just to keep the doors open in some districts.

Also because of the lack of any funding plan, they are unable to use that money for future budgeting that could include hiring new teachers or funding new programs because they do not know from year to year what will be in the schools coffers. How can anyone formulate a budget when they don’t have any idea what they will have to spend?

Finally isn’t it a bit hypocritical of Governor Rounds to criticise the schools for maintaning a reserve fund while at the same time allowing South Dakota to maintain trust funds and reserves that have grown under his watch to more than $1 billion? How can he keep a straight face when criticising schools for wanting a funding backup while at the same time maintaining various rainy day funds that are almost 6 times as large and refusing to dip into them?

If you really want to prevent this reserve fund from ballooning so high maybe you should consider getting with the legislators and try giving the schools more of a long term funding plan so they won’t feel the need to put so much money aside.

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