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School districts restricted on cash balance amounts

PIERRE | A public school district would lose some state aid if its lowest monthly general fund cash balance was larger than South Dakota law allows, state officials said Monday.

South Dakota Department of Education officials explained the new requirements to members of the state School Finance Accountability Board during a teleconference. The provisions were part of the 2016 teacher compensation package. The purpose of the cash balance provisions is to discourage school districts from stockpiling money that comes from taxpayers.

State aid is a combination of payments from two sources: state government’s general fund and the general education levy that is part of a school district’s local property taxes.

The state and county systems operate on different budget years and therefore the state aid amount flows on a different schedule than the property taxes are collected.

The portion of the 2016 law that takes effect July 1 this year says the lowest monthly general fund cash balance in any state fiscal year can’t be more than: 40 percent of the general fund base for a school district with fall enrollment of 200 students or less; 30 percent for a school district with fall enrollment of more than 200 students but less than 600; and 25 percent for a school district with fall enrollment of 600 students or more.

The law says the education secretary shall use the lesser of the school district's fall enrollment for the current school year or the fall enrollment from the previous two years. The penalty is a reduction in the district's state aid by the same amount as the excess.

There are many moving parts. The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Appropriations will make decisions in December or January after the School Finance Accountability Board submits recommendations.

Some school districts in South Dakota don’t receive state aid, said Susan Woodmansey, an administrator in the department’s Division of Finance of Management.

Woodmansey said several school administrators have already told her they would accept state aid penalties rather than bring their general fund balances into compliance. Last year the School Finance Accountability Board determined 14 school districts needed remedial actions to bring salaries in line with the 2016 law.

The appropriations committee agreed but several legislators complained. The 2016 law required appropriators approve the board’s decisions. The Legislature subsequently changed the law this year to give greater flexibility to appropriators.

HB 1166 would let appropriators inject an additional step and suggest the board consider changes. The board then would have 30 days to decide and resubmit. Appropriators in turn could approve, amend or deny any waiver from the board.

Rep. Taffy Howard, R-Rapid City, was prime sponsor of HB 1166. She had 37 House co-sponsors. The measure had 16 Senate co-sponsors led by Sen. Justin Cronin, R-Gettysburg. Howard and Cronin serve on the appropriations panel.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard hadn’t announced a decision as of Monday afternoon whether HB 1166 would become law.


No one hurt in Sioux Falls fire

SIOUX FALLS | No one was hurt in a fire that prompted the evacuation of a Sioux Falls apartment building.

Fire officials say the Sunday night blaze happened in a second-story unit at 4201 West Ave. just north of Yankton Trail Park. Everyone got out of the building safely.

The cause of the fire wasn't immediately determined.

Redistricting falls short of ballot

PIERRE | South Dakota's chief elections official says the campaign for a proposed constitutional amendment that would have taken control of redistricting from state legislators and given it to a new commission didn't submit enough valid signatures to put the measure before voters in November.

Secretary of State Shantel Krebs' office said Monday the rejection could be challenged in court.

Backers needed nearly 28,000 valid signatures for the initiative to go before voters. Krebs says supporters turned in roughly 34,000 signatures, but a random sampling review found only about 25,300 were valid.

The amendment called for switching control of legislative redistricting from legislators to an independent commission of nine people, with no more than three from any one political party.

It mirrored an amendment that voters rejected in the 2016 election.

Boy, 10, accused of arson

SIOUX FALLS | Sioux Falls police say a 10-year-old boy is accused of arson after allegedly setting fire to an apartment playground.

Crews were called Sunday night to the fire at a private playground on the grounds of Autumn Park Apartments.

A police spokesman says an investigation found the fire began with the boy playing with a lighter and a piece of paper. The fire then spread to the rest of the playground.

The playground had just been installed in December and cost $65,000.

The Argus Leader reports the child was cited for second-degree arson and intentional damage to property.

Dead Sea Scrolls display in Denver

DENVER | An exhibit featuring some of the oldest-known biblical documents is coming to Denver.

The Denver Post reports the "Dead Sea Scrolls" exhibit will be unveiled on Friday at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science and will be available through Sept. 3.

The exhibit showcases the Dead Sea Scrolls, ancients writings primarily in Hebrew that include at least fragments from almost every Old Testament book.

Michele Koons, curator of archaeology for the museum, says 10 scrolls will be shown during the first half of the exhibit's stay and another 10 will be introduced during the second half.

The exhibit will also feature other historic artifacts from the Middle East such as well-preserved organic materials like leather sandals and food, one-of-a-kind religious jewelry, weapons and a 3-ton portion of Jerusalem's Western Wall.

More human remains found by trail

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. | More human remains, clothes and a backpack have been found near a Colorado hiking trail where a human skull was found last week.

A group using forensic search dogs found the additional remains Sunday, and Teller County Sheriff's Office Cmdr. Greg Couch tells The Gazette that investigators have determined the skull was that of a 39-year-old woman.

It's not yet clear if the remains are those of 39-year-old Micah Lambert of Colorado Springs, who was last seen Sept. 23 at a friend's house. Her vehicle was found at a parking lot near the trail in the Pikes Peak area Sept. 29.

Stand Your Ground bill sent to gov.

CHEYENNE, Wyo. | The Wyoming Legislature has passed a so-called "stand your ground" bill and sent it to Gov. Matt Mead for his consideration.

House Bill 168 received final approval on Saturday.

The bill seeks to expand the state's "castle doctrine" law under which those who use deadly force in the home do not have to consider if it's reasonable to retreat. Under current state law, that doctrine of not having to retreat doesn't apply outside the home.

It also seeks to provide the shooter certain legal protections from civil prosecution.

Proponents of the legislation say it would benefit law-abiding citizens who are attacked or seriously threatened.

Opponents contend it could embolden people with guns to unnecessarily shoot others.

Taffy Howard