State panel approves Western Dakota Tech application to have a local board of its own

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Western Dakota Technical Institute received approval Thursday to start forming a local education agency with a regional management board.

The Rapid City Area Schools Board currently governs Western Dakota Tech.

The South Dakota Board of Technical Education voted unanimously for their petition.

The state board has broad oversight on academic programs and sets tuition and fees at the public tech campuses in Rapid City, Sioux Falls, Watertown and Mitchell.

The four campuses are attached to their local K-12 school districts for management and budgets.

Western Dakota Tech is the first to seek a separation.

The four officially can start calling themselves colleges July 1, when a new state law takes effect.

Western Dakota Tech must meet three criteria for the change to occur, the state board decided.

Western Dakota Tech’s leaders and the Rapid City school board agreed the technical campus should be independent. They signed a transfer agreement last year.

Mike Roesler, president of the Rapid City school board, said candidates seeking election to the K-12 board haven’t necessarily known they would be in charge of Western Dakota Tech. He said very few citizens in Rapid City were aware of it.

“I want everybody to know this is an amicable separation,” Roesler told the state board. “There is nothing of concern at this college. Everything is running smooth, which makes our job easier.”

Ten people spoke in support of the change during a teleconference public hearing the state board held Thursday.

They also included Paulette Davidson from Monument Health in Rapid City, Dick Johnson of West River Electric Association at Wall, Anna Hayes from Elevate Rapid City, Jon Gillam of Floyd’s Truck Center at Rapid City, Andy Scull of J. Schull Construction Services at Rapid City, Andrea Powers of Southern Hills Economic Development Corp. in Hill City, Linda Rabe of Rapid City who served on the vetting group, K-12 superintendent Steve Willard of Belle Fourche, and Curt Pochardt from the Rapid City school board.

The state board also received a letter from supporter Gloria Plumier, vice chair for Western Dakota Technical Institute Foundation. No opponents came forward or sent comments.

Ann Bolman, the Western Dakota Tech president, said the change comes in response to the perspective from the national Higher Learning Commission that the campus could benefit from stronger local governance.

Bolman said the biggest administrative challenge would be converting to a new financial-records system. She said the new board would need to decide where to hold meetings in the region and how remote technology could be used for the meetings.

WDT’s annual financial-strength scores from the Higher Learning Commission have shown steady growth for the past three years, according to Bolman. On a scale of 0 to 10, the ratios were 3.66 in 2017, 4.93 for 2018 and 6.87 in 2019.

She said the improvement reflected the “close eye” that was kept on the institute’s finances as work progressed on the transition.  

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