School officials cool on redistributing highway fines
February 18. 2014 2:37PM
A push to more evenly distribute money from fines among school districts is drawing criticism from area education officials.
South Dakota’s Constitution requires highway fines be distributed to school districts. Where the fines are issued dictates where the money goes, but a bill making its way through the Legislature could change that.
House Bill 1204 would disperse money from fines throughout all school districts.
“There are certain places where we have weigh stations. Those districts get huge amounts of fine money … and benefit much more so than others because they get to keep those dollars,” said Rep. Don Haggar, a Republican from District 10, during a Legislative Coffee Saturday morning at Bethany Meadows in Brandon. “We didn’t think it was fair for a couple of those districts to get a huge amount of dollars.”
If the bill becomes law — it’s waiting to be heard on the House floor after the chamber’s appropriation committee approved it Thursday — fine money would be dispersed through the general fund. Revenue from fines spent by school districts is not now counted as local-effort dollars.
School superintendents from Baltic, Brandon and Dell Rapids say the proposal calls for more tinkering with the funding formula, and doesn’t address what they see as inadequate funding for public schools in South Dakota.
Brandon Valley Superintendent David Pappone said the existing funding method has allowed the schools he oversees to keep their per-student spending down. If the proposal becomes law, that won’t be the case.
“I want to remind our representatives that Brandon Valley School District is the 149th-lowest-spending district in the state,” he told Haggar and the other District 10 officials at the forum — Sen. Shantel Krebs and Rep. Jenna Haggar. “If you take our fine money and roll it into the local effort part of our revenues, we are in effect going to lose that money.
“This is not good for Brandon Valley,” he added.
The Brandon Valley School District, which encompasses part of legislative District 10, takes in about $200,000 in revenue from fines each year. Baltic budgets about $21,000 in fine revenue, and Dell Rapids $60,000.
Baltic School District Superintendent Bob Sittig said other revenue levels from bank franchise tax and gross receipts tax vary greatly between districts. HB 1204 doesn’t go far enough to address that, he said.
“I’m not sure I see the reasoning behind just doing one of them,” he said. “There’s a bigger issue and that is the state of education funding in general.”
Summer Schultz, superintendent at the Dell Rapids, agreed.
“I’m uncertain why only certain revenues are being targeted,” Schultz said. “Inequities really aren’t being addressed as a whole, so I feel targeting fine revenues isn’t addressing the proposed issue anyway.”
Haggar, a House Appropriations Committee member, said he voted to move the bill to the floor because he agrees with the philosophy of more evenly distributing money.
Krebs said the push to spread around dollars from fines is a battle that’s been waged in previous legislative sessions without much success. During those debates, she said, she hasn’t been in favor of what the proposal seeks to do.
“It’s been a big fight. These other schools are always like, ‘Well, we don’t have a scale,’ and ‘they’re always getting the money,’ ” Krebs said. “I’ve never supported that.”
District 25 Rep. Kris Langer said Sunday she’s open to the idea of changing the fine money distribution formula as long as it doesn’t harm any school districts.
Because the bill’s prime sponsor is Rep. Dan Dryden, a long time school finance officer from Pennington County, Langer said she’s confident the bill was written with the intention of improving the quality of education in South Dakota.
“His intention is good,” she said. “I asked if there was loser in this bill and (Dryden) made it sound like there wasn’t a loser.”
Although he’s not on board with HB 1204, Sittig said he appreciates the background of the bill’s author.
“At least it’s coming from somebody who understands what it’s all about and that’s not always the case. He has that personal knowledge that some other legislator might not have,” Sittig said. “It probably lends a little more credence to it, but it’s still a philosophical thing.”
Haggar said language in the bill protects schools from taking a big hit if it becomes law.
“The way we wrote the bill, we were going to hold harmless all of the school districts, so no one was going to get less,” he said.