South Dakota has ranked dead last at 51st nationally for teacher pay for 25 years, but the expenditure per student is 35th while the amount socked away in schools' bank accounts is No. 1 - $230 million, Rep. Jacqueline Sly, R-Rapid City, told a Rapid City crackerbarrel crowd Saturday.
Sly, who chairs the House Education Committee, acknowledged that the teacher pay issue has come to the forefront but she said the solution might not lie with the Legislature alone.
"We have allowed our local school districts to make lots of decisions, and we like it that way, but maybe we should think about guidelines or boundaries for our districts," Sly said, suggesting the possibility of new laws governing local school districts.
A consultant recently told lawmakers that individual school districts should hold no less than 10 percent but no more than 30 percent in savings, or reserves, Sly said. She said too many districts in South Dakota exceed that 30 percent mark.
"Every year they get tax dollars, and every year we continue that process, and it should not be. we are cheating our students and our teachers when we are holding that money in a savings account," Sly said.
Rapid City Area School Board President Jim Hansen told lawmakers at the crackerbarrel that Rapid City's savings will soon be below the 10 percent level, and he noted that large school districts are struggling under the state's current K-12 funding system.
Sly said that the Rapid City school district has long needed change in several areas, and budget cuts now being laid out are overdue.
Rep. Lance Russell, R-Hot Springs, disagreed with Sly, saying lawmakers should not place blame on individual school districts when the Legislature has limited their options by passing various laws. For example, state law limits a district's annual budget growth at 3 percent.
He said South Dakota's per-pupil spending has not yet returned to the level before Gov. Dennis Daugaard pushed across-the-board spending cuts during his first year, 2011. School funding was cut $127 million then, he said.