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South Dakota Gives Small Districts New Option to Avoid Consolidation

South Dakota law has required school districts with fewer than 100 students to reorganize, but a change in state law gives districts a new way to avoid that fate.

Schools that agree to share resources, such as teachers and superintendents, no longer will be forced to consolidate or shutter, according to the legislationsigned by Gov. Dennis Daugaard in March.

The brains behind the legislation was Dennis Goodwin,the superintendent of the Platte-Geddes Community School District #11-5. He wrote in a blog post earlier this year that he knew in November that his district would have to find solutions to deal with its funding shortfalls; an effort to add a 1 percent sales tax to non-farm items statewide was voted down at that time. Meanwhile, the school district's spending was flat while its revenue fell. His district enrolls 437 students.

Goodwin worked on a plan to "integrate" districts, which would allow districts to cut costs and, in some cases, to prevent consolidation. He presented his proposal to the state's secretary of education, and lawmakers proposed a bill by December. Top-level staff, such as superintendents and business managers, would be shared, and as teachers retired or resigned, their spots would be filled with teachers from another district who would provide instruction online. The changes would only apply to high schools.

He called it the "integrated model," and he proposed pioneering it with other districts.

"The integrated model allows for those small school districts to stay open and keep their schools in those communities," he wrote. "They benefit from the other school districts by sharing resources and adopting identical curriculum, as all of the districts will have within the integrated group."

Four districts, including Platte-Geddes, plan to consider sharing teachers this fall, but no administrators will be shared. One of those districts, South Central, has just 22 students more than the state-required minimum.

Goodwin, who has been superintendent for one year, will be leaving his South Dakota job for a Minnesota school district, according to a story in The Argus Leader, which has followed this issue closely. Goodwin told the newspaper he decided to move to be closer to his wife, who lived in that area.

Dan Guericke, of the Mid-Central Education Cooperative in Platte will take the lead in helping South Dakota school districts looking to expand their collaboration.

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