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Sioux Falls Gently Annexes West Central Subdivision

Kent Alberty is one of my people. But even I have to cock an eyebrow at his characterization of the Sioux Falls School District's successful invasion and annexation of a new housing development near 12th Street and Ellis Road.

The new Cherry Lake Reserve Subdivision is in the West Central School District, but most of the homebuyers want to send their kids to Sioux Falls. Rather than just letting the kids open-enroll, Sioux Falls got West Central to agree to give up the land under a twenty-year sliding tax-share agreement. West Central gets tax money from the land for now, but by 2035, all the property taxes from the land go to Sioux Falls.

Steve Dick, West Central School Board president, said he voted for the original agreement even though it could mean taking a financial hit in the long run.

Dick guesses his district eventually might lose more than $100 million in taxable residential property because of the boundary change.

“In a perfect world, we would keep the property,” Dick said. “It’s a lot of valuation that you would hate to see go away.”

The tax-sharing plan offers a balance, appeasing families without completely cutting West Central off from the financial benefits of a growing part of the city, Alberty said.

“It’s a win-win for both school districts,” Alberty said [Patrick Anderson, "S.F. District Might Absorb West-Side Area," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.11.11].

Kent, my friend, win-win overstates the situation. Sioux Falls wins. West Central doesn't lose as much as quickly as it could have. Sioux Falls is gentler than Russia in the Crimea and Donetsk, but the Ukranians in West Central are still losing.


  1. Dave Baumeister 2014.11.11

    Who cares about the families. They knew what district they were in when they bought their homes. The court just ruled that this couldn't happen when SF people tried to get out of the Tea district, so West Central would not have lost the land through legal channels. People are only doing this for a tax-break; it has nothing to do with education, as open-enrollment takes care of that. The West Central board giving this land up sounds pretty irresponsible. If I were a voter in that district, I would be circulating the recall petitions. When politicians do things like this it always makes people wonder if money changed hands. Personally, I can't think of any other reason they would agree to something like this.

  2. Troy 2014.11.11


    I think West Central won in their mind more than they lost.

    Let's look at the Harrisburg situation which is pretty analogous but 10 years earlier. Harrisburg held onto their land and ultimately had to build a couple of grade schools, a new Jr. High and a new Sr. High. Sounds good on the surface.

    However, many of the people who live in Harrisburg (vs. south Sioux Falls) are lamenting how the character of their school has changed. It no longer is a "small school" which was an attraction to why they live there vs. Sioux Falls. In addition, about half their school families have no ties to the Harrisburg community.

    Just a few weeks ago, I was talking to someone who lives in Hartford and they said they didn't like the changes going on at the school (getting too big).

    My guess is the school district citizens are happy to part with the tax revenue (and responsibility to educate Sioux Falls kids) to keep their school environment.

    On a related note, Sioux Falls School District can build elementary schools on the west side of town without hardly a hiccup whereas West Central would have to ultimately triple the student size of their district if they kept all the City of Sioux Falls (current or to be annexed in the next 10 years).

    My bet is that the people of Hartford think they pulled one over on Sioux Falls. Tax revenue without responsibility for cost of educating the kids or building new schools. This is a win-win.

    P.S. I and my daughter's family are all in the Harrisburg district.

  3. Dave Baumeister 2014.11.11

    Troy, yes, this is probably a good assessment. It just seems odd that a school district would give up so much possible revenue. The school will be growing bigger, anyway. As long as Sioux Falls is growing, the surrounding communities will keep growing too.

  4. mhs 2014.11.11

    One element nobody has mentioned so far is that West Central has alleviated the need to take a ton of risk via this agreement. Early in the Harrisburg District's growth, they floated a lot of debt with correspondingly whopping tax levy increases. The levies decreased rapidly as the District's tax base grew quickly with S. Sioux Falls Development. All according to plan.

    This was all pre-crash, of course. Growth of tax base on the North East side is much less certain than it was in the South as demand for housing development is a much murkier question in America than it has been since the end of WWII.

    West Central has chosen to avoid the risk of an expensive building program to meet growth and then not having the growth happen.

  5. Troy 2014.11.11


    You are correct. On the surface, it seems odd. But, there are two things that don't go away: Growth is expensive as it requires no schools. And, growth changes the environment of the school. Housing is not materially cheaper in the exurbs of Sioux Falls. They choose to live there for lifestyle reasons and growth changes the lifestyle environment.

    I'm guessing here but I suspect that West Central will try their best to grow only as the City of Hartford grows and enter into future similar agreements with Sioux Falls. This will keep West Central as a more singular neighborhood school plus the farm kids vs. Harrisburg's two city situation.

    Strategically, Harrisburg and Brandon have decided to be large school districts (soon to rival Watertown and Aberdeen). West Central has made a different decision.

    The Tea situation is much more complex (by land size, the smallest district in South Dakota). While they would like to be a small school, when they split from Lennox, they didn't get the ag. land base, don't have the high end homes like Harrisburg, and don't have the major employers to support the influx of young families into the district which is why they are resisting the request of the people in Southwest Sioux Falls to become part of the Sioux Falls School District. Plus, the City of Tea is most likely to grow right up to the border of the City of Sioux Falls much faster than anyone else. Personally, I don't see an easy solution for Tea.

    If you really care about the issue, take a look at the Tea and Lennox maps. As far as I can see, there is no reason why Lennox has any land not only north of County Hwy 106 but especially NORTH of Tea. Personally, if the Legislature wanted to step in (School Districts are legally creations of the State and under the Constitution the State has the ultimate say about education), I'd be all for it if Lennox and Tea can't find an equitable solution. The students of Tea deserve it.

    Sometime in the future, Baltic and Tri-Valley are going to have to either choose the Harrisburg model or the West Central model. In the meantime, Sioux Falls School district will continue to grow. Ultimately, in a few years, we will have two wholly "urban" (virtually no agriculture land) districts (Sioux Falls and Tea). Sioux Falls only has about a half dozen of rural sections (640 acres or one mile square) left.

  6. Troy 2014.11.11

    Paragraph #1 "Growth requires MORE schools."

    BTW, Tea has maybe only 20 sections of agriculture land left in it. Harrisburg has probably 60+ and West Central probably 120+. Driving by Tea is like walking by a homeless person. You don't know what to do to help (give him money and will he eat with it or use if for booze/drugs?) but you know something has to be done.

  7. MJL 2014.11.11

    Troy, your assessment with the Tea and Lennox situation are a bit off, I believe. Having taught in Lennox during the split, the issue was not the idea to trap Tea. If I remember correctly, because of the split many of the land owners surrounding Tea were given an opportunity to choose the district that they wanted to be a part of. Many chose Lennox in part because that is where their children went and where they went to school. I am also sure that some choose Lennox because they believed that the tax base would stay lower than Tea. To force a change on that level, would be wrong unless they took it to the school board.

    I get why Tea is upset. They don't have the room to give up the land that was clearly marked in the Tea district before they moved. It wasn't like the state came in and changed the borders on them.

    I do think your assessment with West Central is correct. I would not be surprised that if the property north of Lennox/Tea area started was sold off as development that Lennox would consider the same move as West Central.

  8. Troy 2014.11.11


    You are correct. Lennox landowners were given a choice and I think that was a mistake (a challenge that is so big, its own thread would be insufficient and probably to some degree a fools game without intimate involvement of people from Tea and Lennox). This thread is about West Central and I introduced Tea as a subject unwisely.

    My only intent was to mention that the growth occurring around Sioux Falls makes "normal and customary" out of place and is going to require unique and creative solutions. The West Central solution is easy and simple compared to what is needed for Tea.

  9. MJL 2014.11.11

    Troy, no harm. I just didn't want people to get the impression that a few school board members randomly drew lines to hose Tea over. We are getting over the split here, but every once and a while, it opens up old wounds.

    I think that you are spot on in that this was a calculated measure by West Central. School choice can be difficult for any parent. The state government has put such importance on the property taxes for schools to grow since state aid is minimal and completely untrustworthy thanks past and current administration to hold back funding and attack school reserves.

    My only concern for West Central is where does the district draw the line and not allow other owners out as the city of Sioux Falls continues to grow westward.

    I grew up in Dell Rapids and I have seen that community change over the decades to the point it has nearly doubled in size since I left the school. Much of that is bedroom community situation. That makes it hard to unify any community. I think we have a little while to go until we have the city type feel of the Twin Cities, but I think that this shows the importance of strong school board members and administration to look out for the current and future students of the district.

  10. smitty 2014.11.12


    Tri-Valley student population is, if I remeber, comprised of over 20% Sioux falls families. A couple of developments by the university center drive right by west central high school to get to tri-valley.

    Like you said about tea, with all the problems they face and put themselves in, what are the odds of them flat out getting annexed.

  11. Craig 2014.11.12

    Dave: "People are only doing this for a tax-break; it has nothing to do with education, as open-enrollment takes care of that."

    Not sure there is much of a tax break here - the homeowners still pay the same as they would have, but West Central gets the revenue without having to bother educating that group of kids. Sioux Falls bears the burden of paying to educate the kids, but without the full benefit of the tax revenue - although the sliding scale corrects that issue over time. I will concede is has nothing to do with education however... these issues rarely do.

    The truth is, these battles over school districts are never about the kids or the education. They are always about money. You can't tell me it makes sense to pack kids onto a bus to drive 10-15 miles away when there is a school 1/2 mile in the other direction. In the Tea scenario, there are cases where kids drive right by multiple Sioux Falls schools on their way to Tea, so instead of them walking a few blocks to school they are sent on a bus which takes them six or eight miles away.

    If it was really about the kids and really about the families school districts would probably just all agree to mirror city boundaries with school district boundaries... but that isn't likely because all of the smaller districts want the cash - they have zero concern that some kids spend 90 minutes on a bus each day on their way to and from school or that the parents aren't able to sign them up for extra curricular activities because there is no way they can manage the before or after school pickup/dropoff.

    The reality is schools, much like parks and libraries, work best when they are within walking distance of those who utilize them. Too bad so many school administrators are only concerned with growth and their tax base instead of doing what is best for kids and families.

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