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Despite the B-21s coming, Governor’s Office, some legislators cool to idea of funding for new Douglas School District elementary school

New elementary school for Douglas in front of lawmakers

PIERRE, S.D. (SDBA) — Members of the legislature from Box Elder and Rapid City made an impassioned plea this morning (Thursday) for $5 million in state funding to help the Douglas School District build a new elementary school.

It’s in anticipation of the coming of the new B-21 bomber to Ellsworth Air Force Base and the influx of airmen and families who will work and live there.

While the Joint Appropriations Committee deferred action on SB204, committee members who commented were not persuaded by the Douglas School District’s arguments that it is unique among South Dakota school districts because of the large amount of federal land, namely, Ellsworth AFB, that the district cannot tax.

The governor’s office also opposed the bill.

“Growth in communities and school districts is not unique to Douglas School District,” said Morgan Gruebele (greeb-lee) with the Bureau of Finance and Management. “Many other communities and schools across the state have had increasing enrollment, resulting in them having to figure out how they would fund new construction projects and renovations.”

Supporters said that about 40% of the students currently in the Douglas district come from Air Force families. With Ellsworth being the training base for the state-of-the-art B-21, they expect that number to grow considerably.

Republican Rep. Kurt Massey from Rapid City said the state will make approximately $82 million in contractor’s excise tax and sales and use tax on the construction of about $2 billion worth of facilities at Ellsworth. 

“Since the Douglas School District currently does not have the capacity to house this influx of new students, I believe we can and should reinvest part of that $82 million back into the community by supporting this funding for a needed new school,” Massey said.

Republican Sen. Helene Duhamel says South Dakota has to compete against other bases, such as Dyess AFB in Texas. 

“Texas never says no to the military,” Duhamel said. “They have a $100 million budget or something like that every year to make sure all their needs are met. South Dakota should not be saying no to the military.”

However, some committee members were unpersuaded, at least for now. 

“When I hear this, I get the rub,” Republican Rep. Ernie Otten from Tea said. “I get that we want to show Washington that we’re engaged in this. I find it tough for myself to go back and tell my constituents that I supported $5 million for a new school when I can’t get property really for them.”

Otten said the Tea and Harrisburg school districts were also facing growing pains, with the districts putting up a new school about every four years. 

The Joint Appropriations Committee deferred action on SB204, as they are examining how the various requests for money fit with expected revenues and other budget priorities.

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