GUEST COLUMN: Election mix-up costly, but district saved money elsewhere

Farm Forum

This guest column was written by Aberdeen Public School District Superintendent Gary Harms

Although it has not been my practice to write letters to the editor, I will, out of deep respect for those whose past and ongoing support of Aberdeen public schools is appreciated, offer my apology for and an explanation about the need for a special board election last week.

The last time the Aberdeen Public School District coordinated an election was in 1998 for the first high school bond issue. Each successive January, the board has passed resolutions to hold our elections with the city and county to share costs. No one other than incumbents has run for the board since 2005. That, I’m told, was due to the satisfaction with the jobs board members have been doing and the direction the district has been going. Consequently, the district has saved thousands of dollars when no election was necessary.

Since we are in the business of education and not coordinating elections, we admittedly failed to post the openings board positions this year. When we realized our oversight, we consulted with our district’s attorney who suggested courses of action. The board chose the option that best corrected the error. Unfortunately, the oversight cost the district several thousand dollars. We have since put into place safeguards to ensure that it won’t happen again.

While that cost to taxpayers has made local and statewide news, what has not garnered attention is our recent savings of $770,000 in re-funding the high school bonds due to favorable interest rates.

Additionally, using similar approaches and writing grants, we saved $490,000 in 2005, $643,000 in 2006, $196,000 in 2009, $1,065,000 in 2010, and $360,000 in 2012 for a total of more than $3.5 million.

We are continually looking for ways to be fiscally responsible to taxpayers. Since 2003 we have been able to finish “in the black” every year except one when we needed to shift some funds for a major textbook purchase. This has been accomplished despite recent severe cuts in state funding. Despite those cuts and because of wise fiscal management by Tom Janish, we have improved each school building in our district to provide students and staff some of the best facilities in South Dakota. Simultaneously, we have finished academically among the top three double-A schools every year for the past 10 years. No other high school in South Dakota has had more Academic All-Staters.

I am truly sorry that there was a mix-up regarding the recent election. Ultimately, it becomes my responsibility since I am the superintendent. I have always proceeded from Harry Truman’s philosophy that one should surround himself with good people and allow them to do their jobs. I believe I’ve done that. It’s also important to support each of our 650 hardworking employees who are providing at the lowest possible cost an exceptional product and are helping us to be, currently, the 10th most efficiently operated school district out of 151.

My colleagues across South Dakota have often remarked about the effectiveness of our school board. I assure you they are far from complacent. One needs only to consider the progress that has been made these last 15 years to substantiate that.