SD merit-pay plan for teachers goes to public votePIERRE (AP) — South Dakota voters will decide the fate of Gov. Dennis Daugaard's plan to give bonuses to top teachers, phase out tenure and recruit candidates for critical teaching jobs, Secretary of State Jason Gant said Monday.
By: Chet Brokaw, The Associated Press
PIERRE (AP) — South Dakota voters will decide the fate of Gov. Dennis Daugaard's plan to give bonuses to top teachers, phase out tenure and recruit candidates for critical teaching jobs, Secretary of State Jason Gant said Monday.
Gant said the state's main teachers union, the South Dakota Education Association, has submitted enough petition signatures to refer the measure to a public vote in the November election. The law will be suspended from taking effect pending the outcome of the public vote.
The South Dakota Education Association turned in more than 30,000 petition signatures two weeks ago, and the secretary of state's office has been checking to make sure enough valid signatures were submitted to put the measure on the ballot. A sample of the petition signatures indicated more than 25,000 were valid, far more than the 15,855 needed to refer it to a public vote.
Daugaard has said the measure will improve student achievement, but teachers argued it would instead hurt the quality of education because teachers might stop collaborating to help students as they compete for bonus money. Teachers also said the law ignores the need to boost general state aid to school districts.
The bill, which was modified by lawmakers to give school districts a bigger say in some programs, was one of Daugaard's key proposals during this year's legislative session. The Democratic minority opposed the Republican governor's bill, which passed by a narrow margin.
The teachers union will organize a campaign to persuade voters to reject the measure, SDEA communications director Sandra Waltman said.
"This is another step in taking this conversation to the voters to talk about what our kids need in education," Waltman said. "Ultimately, we're concerned this is going to create a big bureaucracy, and we're not sure it's really going to benefit kids."
Tony Venhuizen, Daugaard's communications director, said the governor will continue to tell voters why the measure will improve the quality of education in South Dakota's schools.
"The governor proposed the bill because he thinks it advances student achievement through great teaching. I'm sure he'll continue to explain his reasoning for proposing the bill," Venhuizen said.
The measure includes the governor's original plan to give $5,000 annual bonuses beginning in the 2014-2015 school year to the top 20 percent of teachers in each school district, based on a new evaluation system and measurements of student progress. But school districts could create their own teacher reward plans or not take part at all.
The bill also would start a scholarship program in the 2013-2014 school year that would choose up to 100 college students a year to receive help with tuition and fees if they pursue teaching degrees in critically needed subjects. They would have to agree to teach such a subject for at least five years in a South Dakota school.
In addition, the measure would give $2,500 annual rewards to math and science teachers beginning in 2014.
Tenure in state law would be eliminated in July 2016 for any teachers not already covered by the protection. Teachers who are tenured by then would keep it, but could still be fired for poor performance. School districts could choose to continue to grant tenure to their teachers.