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.