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Instead of committing to building projects that have not yet been started, the Rapid City Area Schools should use its construction money to pay its teachers, School Board President Jim Hansen said Thursday.

The Rapid City Board of Education spent almost two hours Thursday discussing how to allocate $34 million in what is known as capital outlay money, but arrived at no consensus. The meeting was a study session, at which board members make no formal decisions, but rather discuss possible future actions.

Board members heard a lot of detail about possible financial options before Hansen proposed that projects underway be finished, but no new projects be funded.

"We have to do something for our teachers," Hansen said. "I have not voted in the past to use money from the capital outlay fund for teacher salaries, but I will now. 

"I heard a comment the other day that hit home about another teacher leaving, and we're bleeding right now. We have to take care of the staff."

Board member Ed McLaughlin seemed to agree with Hansen in principle.

"Our highest priority is faculty and staff," he said. "Yes, we need buildings, but not at the expense of staff. We need to put money into the staff so we can retain them."

But not everyone on the board agreed. Board member Sheryl Kirkeby said she is not willing to vote for wage increases with construction money that is not guaranteed to be available in the future.

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"I can't vote to give raises when we know we're going to have to make cuts in two years," Kirkeby said.

Board Vice President Matt Stephens, who said he sees both sides of the argument, said that when voters in June rejected raising their property taxes to give the district more operating money, they sent a message that they think the district has enough money to raise teachers' pay. 

"It sends a mixed signal when we start building projects, but not giving increases to the staff," he said.

The discussion on how to spend the capital-outlay money probably will continue at the board's first meeting in August. 

Contact Emily Niebrugge at 394-8419 or emily.niebrugge@rapidcityjournal.com

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