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South Dakota's Board of Regents chief brings cost-cutting plan to legislators

The report contains dozens of recommendations from a task force of business leaders, legislators, Regents, and campus officials on how to cut costs at South Dakota's six public universities.

FSA South Dakota capitol

PIERRE, S.D. — After more than a year's wait, a South Dakota legislative committee on Monday, Dec. 6, heard cost-cutting recommendations from the head of the state's public university system.

Board of Regents Executive Director Brian Maher on Monday, Dec. 6, delivered what's known as the Senate Bill 55 report to the interim Joint Committee on Appropriations. He outlined several of the more high-profile recommendations to cut costs at the state's six public universities, including:

  • downsizing to a single food service contract;
  • merging separate, West River nursing programs run by Black Hills State University and South Dakota State University into a single entity,
  • and drafting the first economic impact study for SDBOR in half-a-decade.

Now, Maher said, the report will be folded into the strategic plan and, quite possibly, legislation in the upcoming session.
The full report, a 67-page document, was commissioned under a law signed by Gov. Kristi Noem in 2020 , months before Maher even took the reins at SDBOR.

Moreover, the cost-savings campaign had already produced legislative victories for Sen. Ryan Maher , R-Isabel, who sought to increase pressure on the public universities to reduce the cost of delivering an education to the system's 33,000-plus undergraduate and graduate students.

During the 2021 legislative cycle, Maher navigated to Noem's desk a bill that dropped a requirement that new public buildings, including campus constructions, seek a higher LEED-certification for energy efficiency , an idea spurred by the task force. A slideshow on Monday estimated silver-certification requirements have cost the state $5 million over the last five years.

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Monday's meeting also marked an opportunity for legislators to publicly respond to the report's findings, but many still seemed unsatisfied with the amount of information shared about potential cost-savings. At one point, Maher asked how much money a single food service vendor would save the state. When staff declined to provide an answer, Rep. Tina Mulally interjected bluntly.

"Was there a savings and how much was that savings?" asked the Rapid City Republican.

Heather Forney, vice president for finance & administration, said the public would know by the end of January, when the contract had been finalized.

Sen. David Johnson , R-Rapid City, also wondered aloud how expensive the process of SB 55 itself had been.

"Do we really know what we've spent so far on the SB 55 effort?" asked Johnson.

Maher answered that he and other legislators did not receive a stipend and only "got compensated for hotels and dinners."

mulally_2019_sd.jpg
South Dakota Rep. Tina Mulally, R-Rapid City. Contributed / South Dakota Legislative Research Council

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