Happy Wednesday! Megan here.
Weather check: Sunny with a high of 45
🎁 Gift guide update: It's the last two days to get your local gift ideas submitted and earn a chance to win a $50 DTSF gift card. Share what you found while shopping on Black Friday and Small Business Saturday!
This week, I'll tell you what we learned from seeing the city's contract with its new public transit provider. I've also got an update on a very tough situation facing kids in Sioux Falls schools as the district looks to limit its fast-accumulating lunch debt. Plus, find a number of Super Simplified Stories and a look at an upcoming event from one of our sponsors.
And now, news:
What Via's contract tells us about the future of busing in Sioux Falls
Simplified: Sioux Falls City Councilors got a first look at a 46-page contract between the city and Via, its new transit provider. Its complexity and flexibility points to big changes coming for how buses operate.
Why it matters
- The city began the search for a new transit provider back in June, knowing that the current agreement with First Transit/Transdev was expiring Dec. 31. New Y0rk-based Via was announced the winner of that search process in late September, and the company is set to take over Jan. 1.
- Via brings new technology, a "rider centric" mentality and an expertise in what's known as "microtransit" – essentially an on-demand bus system.
- The contract laid out in Tuesday's City Council informational meeting shared the details of how Via will manage the $12.2 million transit budget next year, with flexibility to make changes as needed and ways to earn additional incentives.
"This has certainly been the most intensive contract negotiation that we've had," Finance Director Shawn Pritchett said, adding that it wasn't because Via was hard to work with – they weren't – but rather because of the complexity. "We're not just managing assets. We're managing an entire system."
Meet the new group focused on making Sioux Falls more sustainable
This is a paid piece from the Sioux Falls Sustainability Coalition.
Simplified: A newly formed group called the Sioux Falls Sustainability Coalition is working toward a more sustainable future. Here's what to know about their first event coming up this weekend.
Why it matters
- A number of local and statewide organizations came together this year amid concerns about the City of Sioux Falls' "lack of consistent, actionable policy regarding the existential threat posed by the climate crisis," coalition organizers said in a statement.
- Groups in the coalition include: SoDak 350, the Citizens' Climate Lobby, Dakota Rural Action, Common Grounds Indivisible, Change Agents of SD and others.
- The goal of the first event – which takes place starting at 8:45 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 2 at Our Savior's Lutheran Church – is to to “create a dynamic space for community members to come together to talk about the most consequential issue of our time, surviving our changing planet," said Megan EisenVos, community organizer for Dakota Rural Action.
"The impact of Climate Change is being felt everywhere, including here,” said former Sioux Falls Mayor Rick Knobe, founder of Change Agents of South Dakota. “To deal with it, individual, group, community, government, and business action is required. Please join us in a community conversation on climate and sustainability."
Super Simplified Stories
- Minnehaha County reworks voting precincts. County Commissioners on Tuesday morning got a look at proposed redistricting that would create 81 voting precincts in the county. It's an effort to line up where people vote with who they're voting for as much as possible – i.e. keeping folks in the same legislative, school and municipal districts. What it means for you? Where you vote may change in the next election. (Editor's note: This is also a great time to remember to check your voter registration – lots of voting to come in 2024, and you wanna be ready!)
- A whole new world. The Washington Pavilion is breaking all-time ticket sale records with its 25th anniversary run of the Broadway adaptation of Disney's Aladdin. The theater is also requiring bag checks for all attendees, per the show's request, so be prepared to get there early so you have time to get through security lines.
- Volunteers to make thousands of blankets for kids. It's the 18th Annual Project Warm-Up event on Saturday starting at 11 a.m. at Sonia Sotomayor Elementary School. The goal is to make 3,000 blankets, and the event is still in need of donations of time, money and fleece. Contact spokesman Tory Stolen with the Sioux Falls School District for more.
Why hundreds of kids are at risk of going hungry at school
Simplified: The Sioux Falls School District will no longer be serving food to kids who have a negative balance of $75 or more on their lunch account. It's a tough decision, officials said, but the alternative could be up to half a million dollars in debt by the end of the year.
Why it matters
- More than 1,800 students in Sioux Falls have negative school lunch balances right now. It's likely many of them qualify for free or reduced lunches, Gay Anderson, coordinator for child nutrition said, but there are also close to 600 kids who applied this year who were denied assistance because their families make too much money.
- The school district's lunch debt is growing by about $3,000 per day, Anderson said. That could amount to between $400,000 and $500,000 in debt by the end of the year, which led to the decision to "unpause" the district's lunch policy.
- The existing debt will be wiped clean by the district's Angel Fund on Friday, but moving forward, students who have a negative balance of $20 will get a snack and milk instead of a hot lunch. Kids whose accounts dip below $75 in the red won't be offered a snack or a hot lunch.
"Right now, it's not sustainable where we're at," Anderson said. "Tough decisions had to be made."
More Simplified Stories
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