TRIPP, S.D. — Voters in the Tripp-Delmont School District have approved a new opt-out that will help the rural district’s budget and aid the school’s future outlook.
The vote passed Tuesday by a margin of 272-114, with 70% voting yes for a five-year opt-out at $600,000 per year. Voter turnout was 40%, according to the district.
South Dakota law allows the opt-out option for school districts to raise additional revenue for their general funds beyond the amount generated by the existing tax levies and money from state aid. If district voters approve an opt-out, the district can impose a higher tax levy.
Tripp-Delmont School Board members approved an opt-out but it was referred to voters when 5% of the voters signed a petition to do so. On Tuesday, voters were able to vote at sites in Tripp and Delmont, with Tripp voters more supportive, voting 190-49 in favor of the opt-out. Delmont location voters supported the measure, 82-65. All K-12 students in the district attend classes in Tripp. The opt-out was expected to have the largest impact on owner-occupied homes and commercial property taxes in the district.
The public opt-out vote was postponed from earlier in the year and it marks the second time in the past five years that Tripp-Delmont voters have approved a key opt-out for the voters’ future. In 2017, a $400,000 opt-out was approved by 62.5% of the voters.
It caps the latest chapter in the small district’s recent history of challenging budgets, administrative changes and conversations about potential consolidation.
The district has 160 students in grades K-12. That figure is nearly 50 more students than the district projected to have when it approved its last opt-out. Enrollment bottomed out at 125 students in 2019-20, before climbing to 143 students in 2020-21 and up again for this year.
Tripp-Delmont has a total school budget of about $2.7 million and has previously had an opt-out of $400,000. Out of 149 districts in the state, Tripp-Delmont is the 16th smallest and ranks in the bottom 20% in land area for taxation purposes.
Changes to the state capital outlay funding formula have created funding decreases for the district, according to a pre-election presentation by Superintendent Jeremy Hurd. That limits the share of those funds that can be moved to the general fund and puts the district behind on possible future facility improvements. Paired with a 5% decrease in taxable valuations in the school district in recent years, Hurd said the district has had its ability to raise local revenue for education purposes impacted.
Passing the opt-out, Hurd said, ensures the success of the Tripp-Delmont district for years to come and will allow the school to maintain the quality of education and caliber of the teaching staff.
Pre-election literature shared with district patrons and potential voters noted that the Tripp-Delmont district has reduced a number of teacher positions or created agreements to share teachers with neighboring districts, including preschool, band/chorus, shop. It also tried a four-day school week and gave up on that after saying it did not see significant savings or academic benefits. After previously sharing a superintendent with Armour, the district has re-hired a full-time superintendent and high school principal for Tripp-Delmont.
Recently, the school has added classes on architecture/construction, building trades, forensics, life skills, middle school shop and gardening, according to information provided to voters. The district also has a laptop program for students and improved its reading curriculum for elementary students to improve literacy.