“Next in importance to freedom and justice is popular education, without which neither freedom nor justice can be permanently maintained.”
—James A. Garfield, 20th President of the United States

Monday, February 28, 2011

The hypocrisy of education funding cuts

 Paul Krogman writes in today's NY Times about the colossal mistake of slashing aid to education. He also points out the devastating hypocrisy of lawmakers who champion these cuts:
"Today, advocates of big spending cuts often claim that their greatest concern is the burden of debt our children will face.
"In practice, however, when advocates of lower spending get a chance to put their ideas into practice, the burden always seems to fall disproportionately on those very children they claim to hold so dear."
More specifically to South Dakota, The Antidote, put out by the South Dakota Alliance for Progress, weighed in with a critical assessment of what our illustrious leadership is doing:
"There's nothing left to cut. Ten years of balancing our state budgets on the backs of children has devastated and decimated public education in South Dakota. Public education is broke. No blood from this turnip. Dead. Done. There is not an 'after-last' place. Last is last."

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Something we can all do

Our state delegation told us yesterday that the single most important action we can take to fight Gov. Daugaard's cuts is to write the governor and everyone in the Legislature. Earlier posts on the blog have given links to Brookings legislators and the governor.
Click on this link to write the rest of the state's leaders. We just sat down at the computer, took a couple moments to compose a brief, personal, heartfelt plea and then went through the list. From start to finish, the task took maybe 20 minutes — a fraction of time compared to the entire K-12 experience of one child that will be lost if Daugaard's cuts go through.
As many people are responding to the call for action, there are many more still sitting on the sidelines. We need everyone to join the fight for education.
Better options exist to fixing the state's budget mess than throwing our schoolchildren under the bus.
UPDATE: Within an hour of emailing legislators across the state, here are the first two responses that arrived:
1) Rep. Susy Blake, Minnehaha, District 13 — "I am and I will continue to fight against these 10% cuts to both education and Medicaid. Children will suffer the greatest blow from these slashes to the budget. There is another bill you should write your senators about. It is HB1230 (and) it's called the Large Project Development Fund. It passed the House but not one Democrat voted for it, and only one Republican voted against it. It will take money away from the Contractors Excise Tax, which currently is going into the Gen Fund for education and Medicaid and put it in this new fund for the Governor to use to give tax rebates to lure large (over $5 million) businesses to come to SD. Do we need the revenue? Of course we do, but to do this (it doesn't start til 2013) at a time when we are not funding education and taking care of those who cannot take care of themselves? I think this is wrong. This bill has not been voted (on) in the Senate yet so you could express how you feel to your senator now before the vote. Thanks for your letter, keep writing and telling your legislators what is important and what is not!"
2) Sen. Mark Johnston, Lincoln & Minnehaha, District 12 — "I'm sorry ... we simply have no other choice. We don't have the money."

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A call to action

We left this morning's Education First forum with several thoughts:
1) We are blessed to live in a community where enough people care about the sanctity of education that nearly 350 individuals will set aside their Saturday morning to engage in a dialogue about how to save school funding. That we live in a place where we can speak freely without fear for our life is not lost during these times of great unrest in the Middle East.
2) The week ahead in Pierre will be pivotal in terms of whether our lawmakers will come together and stop Gov. Daugaard's 10 percent across-the-board cut. The actions and the outcome should be remembered during the next election cycle. If we do not like what is happening, we can address that in the ballot box.
3) To paraphrase Ghandi, we must be the change we wish to see in our small corner of the world. There is power in people and strength in numbers. Our voices — if we raise them — will be heard. If we want to stop the Daugaard train, we must contact the governor as well as our lawmakers and those who represent other districts. We must get our family, friends and colleagues in other communities to do the same.
4) There will be cuts to education ... not if, but what. What will we do to retain a quality curriculum and a well-rounded educational experience so that the children entering our school system today have the same opportunities to succeed as those on their way out to college and beyond?
5) We are at a critical juncture in South Dakota and the rest of this country. What are our priorities? Our responsibilities? Our commitments? What are we willing to sacrifice? What are we willing to contribute?
6) Wed., March 2, is Stand Up for Education Day in Pierre. Supporters of public education plan to rally in the Capitol Rotunda at 7:30 a.m. and then spend the day attending committee hearings and lobbying legislators. Heading to Pierre, writing/emailing the governor and lawmakers, rallying the troops — we can do this. Instead of feeling helpless and as though we have no control, we can take action and assert ourselves; we can demand the representation our children and our state deserve.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Keep the emails going

We have heard from yet another concerned citizen that Gov. Daugaard allegedly is not getting much negative feedback on his proposed 10 percent cut from education.
So, as much as we hate to impose on your time and energy, please do this: Email Kelsey.Webb@state.sd.us with your concerns and ask that they be forwarded to the governor. Webb is the director of constituent services.
Additionally, we understand that Daugaard prefers to respond via letter rather than email. So, to verify the communication and help the governor assess the level of feedback, please include your actual mailing address and request a written response.
The governor's cuts are a call to action. We all have a voice, but we need to use it if we are going to make a difference. Students in Aberdeen have collected more than 700 signatures on a petition in opposition against the cut. That's just one school in one community. Please reach out to family, friends and colleagues across the state and urge them to join the fight.
Update: Webb says the contact form on the governor's web page — http://www.sd.gov/governor/contact.aspx — DOES work, so pass the word.

The big picture

The tired, old cliche says that misery loves company, but when it comes to decimating state aid to education and medical care for the elderly and disabled, we're finding no solace in the news of the day.
The Wall Street Journal offers a bleak, state by state assessment of what is going on, and the picture is not pretty — America awash in a "sea of red ink."
The Journal reports: "Most states' budgets will be in place by July 1, and in the short term, the money problems stem from the weakened economy. Income and sales taxes, among the largest contributors to state budgets, have improved from their low points during the recession. But in many states, that revenue remains far below pre-recession levels. Meantime, states used an estimated $150 billion in federal stimulus money to plug budget holes over the last two years but most of that money is gone.
"This year's gaps will be closed somehow, as almost all states are required to balance their yearly budgets. Governors from both parties have proposed a host of cuts in most areas of government, with some of the biggest reductions targeted at education and state-funded medical care. But with cities and states still on the hook for longer-term pension and health-care obligations that are underfunded by about $1 trillion, according to the Pew Center on the States, states' fiscal woes will persist well beyond this year."

Education funding is non-negotiable

The fundamental flaw in Gov. Daugaard's plan to solve South Dakota's budget woes by whacking a flat 10 percent off expenses is a foolish and shortsighted assumption that all expenses are alike. And, his stubborn clinging to the notion only suggests that he either has spent little time with a local school district budget or he doesn't care.
It is one thing to cut administrators in the governor's office or trim $100,000+ salaries by $10,000 or $15,000. The work will be done by others and people will sacrifice to get by with $90,000 a year. There is no challenge whatsoever in cutting phantom slots in a state budget that pads the numbers with extra positions.
Seriously. This is our state government at work. Check out the personal services budget that details budgeted FTE (or full time equivalent) slots vs. actual FTEs. From FY2006 to FY 2010, we budgeted for anywhere from 290 to 624 FTEs more than were actually there.
So, is this how Daugaard valiantly arrives at his 10 percent cuts? Where are the actual names of the 10 percenters who were eliminated from state government?
In comparison, take South Dakota school districts, where budgeting is an art form that blends legitimate accounting practices with a McGyver-like creativity. There is no cushion; there is no fat or phony FTEs. Every position, every program, every dollar is accounted for and well used.
You cut, you lose positions or programming. So, in effect, our kids lose. They lose contact time with a teacher and opportunities to pursue their passion and fulfill their potential. In other words, we are talking about lives lost — when one life lost is one life too many.
If that sounds overly dramatic or if the sentiment prevails that, gee, everyone has to cut, think about this: If Daugaard's 10 percent cut goes through, our school spending will not return to current levels for six to nine years. That is the bulk of a child's K-12 educational experience.
Should a child in Brookings be deprived of a quality and challenging curriculum, exposure to the arts and athletics, debate, improv, student council, FCCLA, and the many other wonderful options that exist? For those children who already have gone through our district, these were the experiences that opened their eyes and molded them, the opportunities that helped them grow and become who they are today.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

SB133: Now you see it, now you don't

Below is a letter Dan Swartos, superintendent/principal of Big Stone City School District, sent to parents, staff and school board members. He does a good job of explaining Senate Bill 133, which basically finds money by shuffling payment dates.
The slight-of-hand concept doesn't invoke much faith in our lawmakers and their ability to fix a broken system, but in a pinch it may be our only hope to stave off a crisis in education. We are left wondering, though, what happens next year given that we'll be stuck with the same governor and group of legislators.
(Also, here are a couple of updates on SB 133 from South Dakota Public Broadcasting and the Mitchell Daily Republic.)

Parents, Staff, and School Board:
You may start hearing quite a bit about Senate Bill 133. It is being sponsored by Cooper Garnos from Lyman County and is the result of an idea put forth by Shayne Mcintosh, Superintendent from Parkston. It is a complicated bill to understand, but here is my take on what it would mean:
The short answer is that it is an accounting trick. Currently, schools receive their state aid payment from the state of South Dakota on the 30th of each month. This bill would move the payment to schools to the 1st of each month. If the bill passes, schools would receive their final payment for this fiscal year (FY2011) on June 30th, 2011. The next payment would be on August 1st, 2011. Essentially, the state would skip the July payment payment during fiscal year 2012 (7/1/12-6/30/12). The state would have 11 state aid payments to schools in Fiscal year 2012 rather than 12 payments, saving the state approximately $27 million. Schools would receive their 12th payment on July 1, 2012, or the start of Fiscal year 2013. Allowing the state to do this would assist the governor in addressing the structural deficit and hopefully help to solve the funding problem for future years.
The second part of this bill would be to freeze local property tax levels by making adjustments to the Cutler/Gabriel Act, which keeps state and local contributions proportional at 54% state/46% local.
By freezing local levys, the cut to schools would be reduced from 10% to 5.6%. Skipping one payment on the state's end would allow the state to keep funding levels at or slightly below current levels and reduce the cuts even further. In the end, schools would see only a 1% or 2% cut, the structural deficit would be addressed, and the governor would be allowed to keep his promise of not raising taxes. In Big Stone City, this is the difference between $60,000 in cuts and $6,000 in cuts. In Milbank it would be $45,000 rather than $450,000. Early portions of this bill included stipulations that would give schools the $26 million in federal education jobs money that was accepted and kept by the state last year, but this is not in the current form of the bill.
SB 133 has passed through Senate Ed and through the Senate floor. The next step will be the House floor, where it will either be voted on and sent to the Governor or sent to House education first.

If you thought it couldn't happen, think again

We're all for fun and games, political strategy and the secret handshakes and nuances involved into doing the public's business, but Wednesday's news from Pierre elevated ridiculous to a new height.
First, the Senate passed SB152 that would decrease Gov. Daugaard's 10 percent cut to 6.2 percent. Really? Are we supposed to feel lucky or thankful? Blessed to have such courageous leadership at the helm of our state?
There also was SB126, which would have reduced the budget cut to a fraction of Daugaard's 10 percent. But, shockingly (feign disbelief now), the bill failed to pass.
Instead, in a bold (cue the sarcastic tone) move, senators passed the governor's budget, 10 percent cut in tact, but added a measure that made it apply only to 12th grade students. The intention was to require the House to change the bill and send it back to the Senate.
Whoa! How did they summon the courage and conviction?
Right in there, in the thick of things, was our very own Sen. Larry Tidemann, who voted for the governor's budget both in committee and in the full Senate.
We're guessing there is a fine explanation about how things work in Pierre and the need to go through these convoluted motions to get where we want to go. But, we've lost patience and faith in the system. Clearly, it is not working on behalf of our children or this state.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

SD funding shortfall study guide

Feeling blindsided by the state's sudden financial crisis? Wondering how we went from an election season full of promise and optimism to a pounding fiscal hangover? Don't worry, you're not alone.
There's plenty of time to catch up before the 10% Budget Cut Q & A Forum, hosted by Education First, Sat., Feb. 26, at 9 a.m. at George S. Mickelson Middle School in Brookings. The event offers an opportunity to ask questions and engage in dialogue with Sen. Larry Tidemann, Reps. Scott Munsterman and Spence Hawley, Brookings school district administrators and SDSU President David Chicoine.
To back up a little and put the situation in perspective, consider what gubernatorial candidate Dennis Daugaard had to say about education and economic issues:  
• Education
• Teacher pay 
• The economy
One of the many interesting points that ring hollow in Daugaard's "Not Broken" ad is his comment that  South Dakota has "more money in state reserves than eight years ago" and that we are "well positioned for success."
Hmmm. Really? How is that possible when we were actually $127 million in the hole?
And, how are our lawmakers responding to Daugaard's line in the sand? Here is a quick series of courses on legislative efforts: 
• SB 126 — Shell Games 101 
• SB 133 — Accounting Gimmicks 102 
• Alternative solutions — Scrambling 103 
• Sales tax hike — Failure to Accept Responsibility 104
10% pay cut — Hypocrisy 105
Now, we do applaud Gov. Daugaard for voluntarily cutting his salary by 15 percent. The true savings of this selfless action, however, will be offset by his hiring of a full-time lieutenant governor. Daugaard also deserves credit for cutting his office expenses from the levels increased by his predecessor, Gov. Mike Rounds.
The question remains, though, will he go 10 percent below the point from where Rounds raised spending for a true cut? This is what he is demanding of education — 10 percent beyond what already has been axed.
While Rounds increased spending on his administration, he lessened the state's education burden, according to the Associated School Boards of South Dakota. The ASBSD contends that during Rounds' tenure state spending increased as state aid to education decreased.
In Brookings, the reduction in state aid during the Rounds administration pushed the district into deficit spending as well as forced $300,000 in cuts last year alone. Even without any drop in aid for 2012, the district faces a 12 percent hike in insurance for the next school year.
Rest assured, whether the Daugaard cut comes through at 10 percent or less, programs and positions will be lost. How many is the only uncertainty.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Pierre, we have a problem

Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Clearly, this is where we are at in South Dakota.
We can argue all we want about whether 1) we should tack an extra penny to the sales tax, 2) the state is investing enough on education or 3) the state and school districts should spend down their reserves. We can come up with one time funding and slide through this year or whack 10 percent from our budgets.
None of this will bring desperately needed and lasting change to education funding in South Dakota.
And, if that is not depressing enough, try googling education funding or education funding cuts or South Dakota funding of education. Read through the results and check out statistics. The surprising revelation is that we have not hit rock bottom sooner.
But, this is what happens when the leadership stance is a stagnant, status quo combination of business-as-usual and if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it. Rather than take a proactive approach, South Dakota has done nothing more than sit back and wait for bad times.
Lawmakers, when pressed on education funding cuts, rattle off how much of the budget is consumed by education — they like to bundle education and social services to say 85 cents of every dollar. But, to put our education funding in perspective, South Dakota has one of the lowest percentages in the country of state investment and one of the highest percentages of federal investment. (For a more detailed look at the facts and figures, check out this 2007 report from the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan tax research group based in Washington, D.C.)
But, seriously, this does nothing more than give us the sensation of beating our collective head against the wall. So, what to do and where to go with education funding?
Gov. Dennis Daugaard, rather than offer any novel ideas or true reform, has gone with the unimaginative, austere approach of issuing a mandate to cut 10 percent, any repercussions be damned. Our lawmakers are caught in the middle with an angry electorate that wants services, but doesn't want to pay for them. (And, this is not just South Dakota. Check out the results from this national survey. We fit right in.)
There are some noble efforts to stave off catastrophe, although we find it difficult to gauge the merits. For example, according to a KDLT report, SB 126, would maintain the per student allocation at current levels by taking $20 million in interest from the Education Enhancement Trust Fund and putting it into an Education Stabilization fund. In return, schools would also put $20 million into the Education Stabilization fund between FY12 and FY13 and would give up their ability to opt-out.
The Rapid City Journal reported on a plan, which doesn't seem to have much traction, for a special election to allow us to approve or reject a sales tax increase.
Meanwhile, in our googling around on the internet, we happened upon this commentary from October. While we can't vouch for the validity of the facts and figures offered, we do wonder exactly what has been going on in Pierre and why a fiscal crisis of such monumental proportions has failed to shift the paradigm?
This much we do know: The system is broken and needs fixing. Money is tight, if not non-existent. People do not want to pay for repairs.
And, if we do not fund education and provide our children with quality academics and a well-rounded experience in the arts and athletics, we will pay dearly in our lifetime and beyond.
We elect our lawmakers and place them in office because they tell us they want the job; that they have the skills needed to lead us. So, don't come back when the going gets tough and ask us what we want them to do or how we want them to fix this, or if we're willing to impose a tax on ourselves.
If our leaders deem education important, if they think education is vital to our economy and our children's future, then they ought to drop the politics, get together and figure a responsible way out. Stand up before the people of South Dakota and lead us to a better place.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Q & A forum planned on 10% budget cut

Everyone is invited to attend a 10% Budget Cut Q & A Forum, hosted by Education First, on Sat., Feb. 26, at 9 a.m. at George S. Mickelson Middle School. Please pass the word, plan to attend and bring family and friends. All are welcome, from Brookings and beyond.
The event offers an opportunity for dialogue and the sharing of information with Sen. Larry Tidemann, Reps. Scott Munsterman and Spence Hawley, Brookings school district administrators and SDSU President David Chicoine.

How did we get here?

One of the questions asked at today's early morning coffee session with Sen. Larry Tidemann and Rep. Scott Munsterman at Camelot Intermediate School focused on the sudden awareness of the state's $127 million shortfall.
Why is this such a monumental issue now, but we heard little about it during the election campaign?
According to Sen. Tidemann, although the true depth of the funding crisis is just coming to light, former Gov. Mike Rounds asked his departments in July or August to come up with two budget scenarios — a 5 percent budget cut and a 10 percent budget cut.
So, as we scramble to catch up and wrap our brains around this massive mess, we found this piece by Bob Mercer in the Aberdeen American News to be a comprehensive, well-written explanation.

Education as a priority

The frustrating aspect of education funding, or the lack thereof, is that the debate typically gets framed in the context of our own spending habits.
We say, well, when we don't have enough money in our household, we cut back and tighten the belt. Couldn't agree more. That is a reasonable concept and the right response. Experts say a big part of why the economy tanked is because people weren't living within their means.
However, the comparison between state and household budgets is completely unrealistic and irrelevant.
When we cut back at home, we trim frivolous items from our personal expenses. While those priorities change from one person to the next, the list of potential cuts takes a similar tone. Dinners out, shopping trips and vacations are among the first items to go. Next, we may look at cutting off cable or satellite tv, ending magazine subscriptions or dropping cell phone usage. In more serious situations, we downsize or sell our house.
But, we don't stop eating. We take our kids to the doctor when they're sick. We don't abandon major life functions because they are necessities or priorities.
This is education, not a frivolous expense. Everyone, our governor included, pays lip service, at the very least, to the idea that education is an investment and not an expense. Education is our lifeblood, as individuals, as communities, as a state, as a nation.
But surely, folks say, there is "fat" in the budget; there is waste we can eliminate. If that's where we're headed in this debate, then people need to take a good look at the school budget.
The first line item to consider is salaries — 83 percent of the Brookings school budget. So, could we cut positions? Yes, but that will impact the quality of education we deliver.
If we lay off teachers, we eliminate educational opportunities, get rid of arts and athletics, drop counselors, librarians and nurses, and put more kids in a classroom. Look at the list of cuts up for consideration. To paraphrase a speaker at an an earlier session with lawmakers, do we cut off our arm or slit our throat?
No one is advocating to blindly throw money at education. Everyone agrees that times are tough and we need to hold the line on expenses.
But, be aware. Balancing the budget on the backs of our children and at the expense of a quality education may zero out the bottom line now, but rest assured — doing so will cost us dearly in the long run. And then? It will be too late to turn back. Too late for both our kids and South Dakota.
This is the moment when South Dakotans decide whether education truly is a priority, enough of a priority that we will sacrifice to fund it. This is the time when our lawmakers must step up to the plate and show the courage leadership demands.
Cutting the budget by 10 percent is an easy way out. Change — in our revenue structure and our mindset — poses the real challenge and the true test.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Breakfast meeting with state legislators

State Sen. Larry Tidemann and Rep. Scott Munsterman (Rep. Spence Hawley is unable to attend) are returning to Camelot Intermediate School in Brookings on Friday morning, Feb. 18, at 6:30 a.m. to meet with people who are interested in continuing the dialogue about state funding cuts to education.
Anyone and everyone is welcome to attend, listen to information and ask questions. Camelot is located at 1401 15th St. S. The session will be held in the music room. Enter through the front door of the school, turn right and head down the hallway. The music room will be on the right.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Is this for real?

Amid the fear and loathing of Gov. Daugaard's 10 percent budget cut, some people question the reality of such a doomsday scenario. State legislators, they say, won't let the plan go through.
Based on the state's funding history, this is an understandable reaction. We start out the legislative session with dire predictions and then emerge on the last day feeling some pain, but living to see another day. Did any of us ever think we'd be waxing nostalgic for the Janklow administration and a 1.5 percent increase in state aid?
But, we digress. If people take the time to read up on the issue and get a grasp of the few — very few — ideas being tossed around in Pierre, doomsday scenario does not sound so farfetched.
The point is, the battle for education funding is nothing new in South Dakota. Every year, we return to the scene of pending disaster and somehow,  we end up scraping by. Everyone goes back to his or her business, the bills get paid and the state clutches to its 50th slot in the ranking of education spending.
So, what's different this year? Despite having a governor who professed a profound love and appreciation for education during his campaign, he now refuses to budge on his mandated 10 percent across-the-board-everyone-feels-the-pain budget cut and has tossed the matter into our proverbial lap. The only talk of potential survival is a 1-cent sales tax  — which the governor promises to veto — imposed during the tourist season to get non-South Dakotans to help pay for our responsibility to educate our children. Bold ideas to bring about true change are nonexistent.
For a look at what's being said around the state, here is a small, random sampling of news and opinion:
South Dakota Public Broadcasting on a sales tax vs. budget cuts
DakotaWomen on the mood in Vermillion
Madville Times on S.D. tax breaks for corporations
Rapid City Journal on money the state loses in tax exemptions
The Associated Press on Democrat plans that aren't going anywhere
Mitchell Daily Republic on what's happening to higher education
Argus Leader on the impact of 10 percent cuts on Medicaid

This is not a done deal

The point cannot be stressed enough — either we sit back and wait to see what hand we are dealt OR we hold our legislators and governor accountable.
Let our lawmakers know that we care about education and we want it funded at appropriate levels. Take two minutes and drop them an email or make a call. The South Dakota Education Association offers this simple, sample postcard and some talking points.
Gov. Dennis Daugaard: email or 605-773-3212
Sen. Larry Tidemann: sen.tidemann@state.sd.us or 605-773-3821
State Rep. Scott Munsterman: rep.munsterman@state.sd.us or 605-773-3851
State Rep. Spence Hawley: rep.hawley@state.sd.us or 605-773-3851
If you would like some inspiration, consider this eloquent, moving letter written by a Brookings teacher to Sen. Tidemann:
My name is Eileen Hall.  I have taught Art in the Brookings School District for two and a half years.  If the proposed budget cut goes through, I will possibly lose my job or be cut to a half-time position.  Fine Art provides youth with a global perspective, an outlet for personal expression, and allows for the development of critical thinking skills and fine motor skills, just to name a few of the benefits.  Furthermore, this cut to education is a blow to the future of South Dakota.  How can the education of our children not be our first priority? Uneducated children that will not be prepared for college will not benefit our state.  It is an embarrassment to us all.
Secondly, my future husband works for the South Dakota Humanities Council.  We are both highly educated and valued by our employers.  If these cuts occur, we will be forced to leave this state and find jobs elsewhere.  By allowing these cuts to happen, we will lose the most educated people in our state. Those that don't leave will instead be forced to apply for welfare, which only strains the state's budget further. Please, please don't allow these cuts to happen.  Children are the future, and an uneducated future is bleak.
Thank you,
Eileen Hall
MMS Art Teacher

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The start of something

In his campaign for South Dakota governor, then candidate Dennis Daugaard disseminated The Daugaard Plan for Education: Building a Stronger South Dakota.
He introduced his thoughts by saying:
"I am proud of the system of schools that we have in South Dakota. Many different measures demonstrate that our schools perform at a high level and produce high quality students. That is a testament to the commitment of our teachers and administrators, and the quality of our students.
"But we should always strive to do better. As we consider the economy of the next decade, we must recognize that the old methods and practices may not be sufficient. South Dakotans can compete with anyone in the world, and as Governor, I will ensure that we take steps now to prepare our young people to compete in an increasingly technical and complex global economy."
Fast forward beyond the election and today Daugaard, South Dakota's governor, has submitted a budget that includes a 10 percent cut across the board — including a severe blow of $480 per student in state aid for education.
For the Brookings School District, this means a devastating loss of $1.3 million. If you want to quantify that figure, take $1.3 million, divide by $45,000 (the average teacher's salary, including benefits), and that is a loss of 29 teacher positions.
Never mind that the school district already cut $300,000 from the budget last year, the district already opts out of the state tax freeze to raise an additional $750,000 per year, we're already in a position of deficit spending, and health care costs are jumping 12 percent — or $200,000 — this year. Forget that South Dakota law mandates a state funding increase of 1.26 percent each year, which, obviously, doesn't even cover the insurance hike.
So, what is a school district to do? Here is the list of potential cuts up for discussion:
Administrators, $163,800; counselors, $80,500; nurses, $46,500; librarians, $96,000; staff development, $12,000; 12-15 teachers, $675,000; gifted program, $66,000; orchestra, $50,000; co-curricular activities (sports, etc), $61,000; reduce kindergarten to half time, $270,000; field trips, $20,000; inservice days, $100,000.
The list goes on, but you get the idea. So, again, the question begs to be asked: What do we do? Do we sit back and get Daugaard's 10 percent cut shoved down our throats or do we stand up and demand better from our governor and our state legislators?
As we contemplate that choice, it's appropriate to return to candidate Daugaard's philosophy in his Plan for Education, where he talks about a "Commitment to Funding Education."
Wisely, Daugaard pointed out: "I believe strongly that education is an investment, not an expense. Education is the foundation of economic development, and the future of South Dakota's economy depends upon creating a highly-educated workforce. ... Our obligation is to maintain a school system that molds our young people into the leaders and achievers of tomorrow."
We couldn't have said it better ourselves. So, let's go Brookings and the rest of South Dakota. Let's start something ... Education First.