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S.D. Board Asked To Rethink State Guidelines for Schools

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A few weeks of unbridled regulation-cutting by South Dakota lawmakers have left the state school board with months of work, as it picks through hundreds of eradicated school laws for the few that should be salvaged.

The summer will be dominated by reviewing and reinstating the most basic and most pressing guidelines needed to start the 1995-96 school year, state officials said.

Rules addressing health and safety, disaster plans and drills, the length of the school day and year, the state testing program, and the maintenance of student records are suddenly on the board's plate for deliberation.

"The state school board very quickly this summer will build a new system of accreditation," for starters, said Doneen Hollings-worth, the director of administration for the state education department.

Nearly 100 state statutes and more than 500 administrative rules governing K-12 education will be gone from the books as of July 1. While the board has until next January to report its progress to the legislature--and until January 1997 to make final recommendations--many fundamental rules need to be redrafted immediately.

The situation gives the state board the opportunity to recommend vast changes, but Ms. Hollingsworth said that there may not be enough time this summer to significantly alter the laws that must be reinstated immediately. Eventually, she added, the rules will look very different from the way they do now.

Going Wholesale

Increased local control was the legislature's incentive for wiping the hundreds of rules and regulations off the K-12 slate.

"Some said, 'Why don't we just sunset the rules?'" said Ms. Hollingsworth. "But the department and the Governor said that whenever you do that, you just end up with more [regulations]."

Many of the mandates may disappear forever. Among the repeals were requirements to teach about patriotism, aids prevention, and environmental issues. Rules on the hiring of business managers and counselors, school organization, and nonpublic-school supervision are also gone.

Leaving such decisions up to communities will generate increased local involvement, said Gene Enck, the executive director of the Associated School Boards of South Dakota.

"We're going to start to see some creativity," he predicted. At the same time, he added, "we're trying to get boards to understand that they still have to maintain high standards even though they're not required of them."

Sen. Paul Valandra, a former vice-chairman of the Senate education committee, said the plan should save local districts money. But the Democrat said he did not think all of the mandates targeted by the legislature's Republican majority needed to be repealed.

Lawmakers "just went wholesale," said Jack Keegan, the superintendent of the 18,000-student Sioux Falls district. Mr. Keegan said that many of the regulations--such as those dictating when students must use protective eyewear or requiring that schools hire counselors--would be foolish to drop.

But, he added, while the flexibility would be nice, "my big concern now is, are [the rules] going to become even more restrictive?"

New Funding Formula

Lawmakers also did away with seven programs financed through categorical grants, including gifted education, secondary vocational education, aid for teacher salaries and benefits, and in-service training for teachers.

John A. Bonaiuto, the secretary of the education department, said the repeal of the programs does not mean they are unimportant. Rather, he said, it will give local communities the authority to spend money where they most need it.

In addition to revamping categorical funding, South Dakota lawmakers approved a revised school-finance formula that will take effect Jan. 1, 1997.

A judge upheld the present system late last year, but it was widely criticized for contributing to a heavy property-tax burden and for giving the most aid to districts that spend the most money. (See Education Week, Dec. 7, 1994.)

Under the new plan, the state will set the cost of a basic education at $3,350 per student, while districts will be required to levy a minimum property-tax rate.

The state will then pay the difference between the cost of a basic education and the funds the district can generate from the minimum levy. Districts can raise more money if voters approve a higher tax rate.

The sweeping regulatory and funding changes heralded by Republican Gov. William J. Janklow as the legislative session opened and accomplished by the lawmakers "send a signal that things have changed," Ms. Hollingsworth said.

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