Happy Wednesday! Megan here.

Does anyone else feel like things are maybe inching back towards "normal"?

I told you last week about how the city parks department is planning for pre-COVID levels of staffing and programming.

Meanwhile, South Dakota is just one step away from opening vaccine eligibility to all people 16 and over.

And, it doesn't hurt that the weather forecast for the next week promises at least one 60-degree day.

All that to say, I'm feeling good. I hope you are too.

And now, news:

CITY

How COVID relief funds are helping parks, roads and lions

Simplified: Federal relief funds from the 2020 CARES Act reimbursed about $47.7 million in city costs last year. That's left Sioux Falls with cash to burn, and the city is looking to invest in one-time projects, Finance Director Shawn Pritchett said.

Tell me more.

So far, the city has spent about $25 million paying down debts. There's about $22 million still available to spend, and the city this week released plans to spend nearly $11 million of those remaining funds.

Why it matters: If approved by the City Council, that money would go to fund projects including:

  • Adding new playground equipment, a splash park, a walking loop and a dog park to Hayward Park
  • Bringing a new lion exhibit to the Great Plains Zoo, along with some other improvements
  • Funding an inclusive playground and "ice ribbon" (essentially a sidewalk you ice skate on) in the proposed Jacobson Plaza at Falls Park
  • Designing the river greenway along a planned development in the Sioux Steel site downtown,
  • And expanding and enhancing streets in areas that are expecting new developments.

What happens next? City Councilors will have to approve each part of this "Phase 1" plan. And, as one might guess, there's likely to be later phases used to spend the $11 million still unaccounted for.

It's possible that extra money will fund the actual river greenway enhancements once designed, and it's likely it'll go toward more one-time projects that add quality of life or accessibility to Sioux Falls, Pritchett said.

Learn more here.

EDUCATION

Schools that shrunk during pandemic will get financial relief from the state

Simplified: Lawmakers earlier this month approved an extra $11 million to help South Dakota schools who saw fewer students during the pandemic. Sioux Falls was one of those districts, with about 500 fewer kids than they'd budgeted for.

Why it matters: The pandemic brought unexpected costs to schools by way of virtual instruction, needing to hire more substitute teachers, cleaning and sanitation, etc.

  • It also made it harder to predict student-teacher ratios, which form the basis of education funding in South Dakota. Schools had to hire teachers in the spring not knowing what would come in the fall.
  • Sioux Falls and dozens of other schools statewide saw unexpected enrollment drops, and the $11 million will help ensure those one-time drops don't mean a big funding cut.
  • Sioux Falls will get about $1.9 million in one-time funds.

See how much money other area districts will get and learn how it will be distributed here.

SIMPLIFIED PRESENTS

Meet Hartford's new economic development director

This is a paid piece from the Sioux Metro Growth Alliance.

Simplified: The City of Hartford has a new leader looking to bring more money, businesses and people to the community. Let's meet Amy M. Farr.

Why it matters: Having a local economic development director means Hartford has someone always looking at ways to help the town grow.

  • That might mean working with developers to bring more housing options to town, working to bring business to town or finding ways to grow and support businesses that are already there.
  • In her new role, Farr will also work closely with the Sioux Metro Growth Alliance to look at ways to get the word out about business and development opportunities in Hartford.
  • Farr has lived in Hartford for the last 20 years, and she's worked about that long for the Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce.
"The role of economic development is to work for the community and to understand what they would like their community to be in the future," Farr said.

Learn more about Farr and get a glimpse of what to watch in Hartford here.

Stuff to watch:

  • Siouxland Libraries will return to normal hours starting Monday, March 29.
  • Two more school board candidates have secured a spot on the ballot, including incumbent Kate Parker and newcomer Marc Murren. They'll join three others (Anthony Pizer, Paulette Ludens and Cory Begley) on the May 18 ballot.
  • It's no secret that schools around Sioux Falls are growing. We've looked at Brandon Valley. We've looked at Harrisburg. I'll take you to Tea next week, but in the meantime, the Argus Leader also got a look at renovation and expansion plans in Tri-Valley.

COMMUNITY

Pets won 2020. Here's why.

Simplified: The Sioux Falls Humane Society saw more adoptions and fewer returns in 2020, and they're giving COVID-19 credit for the trend.

Why it matters: About 200 more pets found homes in Sioux Falls in 2020 than in the year prior, and returns went down 2.2 percent over the same period, according to Meghan McNeill, the humane society's front office manager.

  • McNeill said the nonprofit also saw fewer animals coming in.
  • On the flip side, demand for the society's food bank, which provides pet food for those who cannot afford it, went up "a lot," she said.
  • Much credit for the increase in adoptions goes to the humane society's new online application form and curbside adoption policy. That's led to a more one-on-one process in which the society works with folks looking to adopt a pet.
"It's less impulse adopting ... There's more matchmaking vs. coming up with a friend, and you're like, 'Oh, that's a cute animal,'" McNeill said.

See which COVID-19 pet adoption changes will stick around post-pandemic.

EDUCATION

Sioux Falls looks to bring diverse books to high schoolers

Simplified: A two-year study of the Sioux Falls School District's English Language Arts curriculum showed a need for high school students to have more diverse texts, according to a report presented to the school board Monday.

"I needed some curriculum, I needed some novels that help students see themselves in that writing," said Teresa Boysen, assistant superintendent of academic achievement.

Why it matters: The study looked at how the district teaches English, reading and writing at all grade levels K-12.

  • As Boysen alluded to, books that provide diverse perspectives or have diverse characters give students of color, students with minority religions or genders, or students with different abilities a chance to see themselves reflected in what they're reading.
  • This isn't just a Sioux Falls idea. The National Education Association – a labor union representing educators nationwide – has also called for more diverse books.
  • Beyond Sioux Falls, there's also a nonprofit dedicated to this cause: We Need Diverse Books.
  • The books and support texts purchased will go directly to classrooms, school officials said.

Learn more and see what recommendations were for elementary and middle schoolers here.

THIS AND THAT

What we're falling for this week:

What are you (FALLS)ing for lately? Email megan@cmtv-news.com, and you could see your favorite local things pop up in an upcoming issue.

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