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Panel against Referred Law 16

Posted: Wednesday, Oct 3rd, 2012

• State senator questions one-cent sales tax increase, rest of group supports IM 15 funding

BROOKINGS – A gathering of South Dakota State University education students and some local residents heard Monday night mainly why they should say “Yes” to Initiated Measure 15 and check “No” for Referred Law 16 on their ballots this fall.

The public forum was hosted by multiple SDSU student groups. Panel members included Andy Wiese, campaign manager for Moving South Dakota Forward; Judy Kroll, former Brookings High School teacher and representative of Vote No On 16; Larry Tidemann, state senator; Pam Merchant, state Senate candidate; Lynda Venhuizen, state PTA representative; Larry Rogers, Brookings School Board president; and Kelsey Loveseth, BHS teacher.

Each panel member had 10 minutes to speak. The forum was moderated by Danielle Guthrie, graduate student in political geography and president of SDSU’s political science club.

Wiese, a graduate of Flandreau High School and SDSU, said Moving South Dakota Forward is a broad coalition of South Dakotans who support Initiated Measure (IM) 15. It would add one cent to South Dakota’s sales tax and split the proceeds evenly between K-12 education and Medicaid. The group expects this one-cent increase to bring in about $180 million per year.

“That’s how we see this as a long-term solution,” Wiese said.

Because state funding is not keeping up with school needs, the cost of K-12 education is increasingly being shifted to local property owners via opt-outs, Wiese said. For Medicaid, which he said serves children and seniors, the drop in state funding means care facilities are subsidizing their expense to care for Medicaid patients by passing on the cost to patients who have money.

Kroll discussed RL 16, which would establish a scholarship program for South Dakota college students studying education, if they agree to stay here and teach in critical need subject areas. It would also provide state-funded bonuses for eligible math and science teachers; provide state-funded merit pay to “top teachers” in each school district; create a uniform statewide system for evaluating teachers and principals; and eliminate the state requirement that K-12 teachers receive a “continuing contract” after their third year with a district.

Kroll said she finds no redeeming feature of the proposed law.

“Most of it is against teachers, against students and pretty much against communities,” she said.

It takes away local control, Kroll said, especially for teacher evaluations, discourages teachers by asking them to compete for extra pay and frustrates students and teachers with excessive testing, among other faults.

Loveseth, a social science teacher in her eighth year, said South Dakota’s problem is not recruiting teachers but retaining them. She said the proposed merit pay system would use the Danielson Group’s Framework for Teaching in a way its creator is opposed to.

And, teachers would struggle to keep students’ respect if they aren’t in the group getting a bonus that year, Loveseth said.

Meanwhile, bonuses based on test scores pit teachers against their fellow teachers, Loveseth said, and might discourage them from taking on student teachers when test scores are so important.

Tidemann gave pros and cons of both issues. He voted against RL 16 several times before the Legislature made it law. On the pro side, it does provide more money for teachers, he said. But it will divide schools by not forcing them to have continuing contracts, he said. It also places too much responsibility on teachers, especially given that not all teachers have the same support and tools provided by their schools and districts.

Tidemann was the only panel member to imply he does not support IM 15. He does like that everyone will pay the tax, unlike a property tax, and that it won’t require a lot of extra work by the Legislature. But, colleges and technical schools won’t benefit from it. And, the state doesn’t really need it, he said.

“If we had another shortfall of funding, I could support this measure,“ Tidemann said. “But, since we currently have enough money to get things done, I question the timing.”

Merchant, a previous state senator and Brookings School Board member, as well as an active PTA member, said she likes the one-cent sales tax increase for the sake of South Dakota’s future education and Medicaid system.

South Dakota schools have needed more money for years, she said, and they need local control of how that money is used. Instead of increasing base funding, the Legislature has filled the gaps in some years with one-time funding, she explained.

“There is a very bad habit of one-time money in the state,” Merchant said, adding that schools can’t plan for the future that way.

Meanwhile, she likes the scholarship program created in RL 16 but not the math and science bonuses. Individual districts know their needs and know how to spend money like that, she said.

Rogers agreed that South Dakota has long been under-funding its schools. He said many districts together sued the state several years ago for this, but they lost the suit because they did not prove that more money would result in better education for students. Brookings School District can show that relationship, Rogers said, and needs more money now to maintain a K-3 school it plans to build so that class sizes will stay low.

The Brookings School Board is on record as supporting IM 15 and being opposed to RL 16, Rogers noted.

Rather than putting money into merit pay, which teachers generally resent and which studies have shown produces no measurable increase in student test scores, districts should invest that money in teacher development. That strategy has been shown to work in Helena, Mont., Rogers said.

Speaking on behalf of South Dakota PTA, Venhuizen said her group is remaining neutral on both issues because it has members who support both.

“The role of PTA instead will be to educate its members on both sides of the issues,” Venhuizen said.

She also noted that if the federal government does not pass its budget by January, programs such as special education and free and reduced lunch will be “drastically cut” next school year. Venhuizen urged people to contact their U.S. representatives to push for passing a federal budget.

For pros and cons of both IM 15 and RL 16, visit Secretary of State Jason Gant’s website, sdsos.gov, and click on “2012 Ballot Questions.”

Contact Charis Prunty at cprunty@-brookingsregister.com.

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