South Dakota governor scolds school district

Posted September 15

— The South Dakota governor has accused a school district of trying to scam the state funding formula by inviting home-school families to visit the district on the day enrollment is counted.

Tri-Valley Superintendent Mike Lodmel sent a letter to home-school families this week, inviting them to receive a free computer and lunch Sept. 29, the Argus Leader reported.

"In total transparency, school districts in South Dakota receive funding based on the number of students enrolled in the district on this date (Sept. 29)," Lodmel said in the letter. "Our district would be willing to purchase new laptop computers for each student who attends school on this date."

Lodmel also said in the letter that the more students that attend school the day of the enrollment count the "more funding for our district and less of a tax burden on our patrons."

Tony Venhuizen, a spokesman for Gov. Dennis Daugaard, called the invite a tactic to scam the state funding formula.

The governor asked Lodmel to rescind the invitation and removed him from a school finance accountability board.

Lomel said the idea for to invite home-school families was his, but he declined to confirm whether it was an effort to pad enrollment. He said he had been fielding calls on the letter "all morning" Thursday.

"We're just going to drop it," Lodmel said.

Lodmel said he discussed the offer with the district's legal counsel before sending the letter.

Attorney General Marty Jackley said his office is investigating the situation.

Venhuizen said legislation may be brought forward to discourage attempts to inflate enrollment numbers.

"If this is the new bright idea, we'll have to look at new legislation next session to make this crystal clear," Venhuizen said.

Rep. Sue Peterson, R-Sioux Falls, said she was concerned and plans to bring legislation in 2018 to prohibit similar efforts.

Tri-Valley schools saw a small increase in enrollment this year and is expected to see more tax revenue due to a planned 820-acre industrial park in the area. Lodmel has estimated $55,000 in new property tax revenue from the park.


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