Education debate only beginningSchool board members say ballot defeats likely to spur legislative action.
By: Ross Dolan, The Daily Republic
The defeat of Initiated Measure 15 by South Dakota voters Tuesday was no mystery to Mitchell Board of Education President Theresa Kriese.
“I think it’s always difficult to get people to tax themselves — no matter how good the cause is,” she said. “I’m sorry it went down, but the people spoke and we’ll have to move forward from here.”
Mitchell school board members had expressed unanimous support for IM 15, which would have added a 1 percent sales tax to fund education and Medicare.
Board members were divided on Referred Law 16, which also went down to defeat Tuesday. That bill would have given scholarships to attract more math and science teachers, and it would have created merit pay bonuses for some teachers. It also would have eliminated tenure and created a new teacher and administrator evaluation system.
All board members interviewed Wednesday by The Daily Republic said the defeat of both measures, if nothing else, will make education funding a top consideration in Pierre this winter during the legislative session.
“I’m really not too surprised by the defeat of IM 15 or Referred Law 16,” board member Brenda Freidel said. “I hope the Legislature will work together with the governor to get some stable funding for schools.”
Freidel was glad Constitutional Amendment O passed. That amendment sought to preserve the state’s cement plant trust fund endowment by reducing the distributions to the general fund from $12 million a year to 4 percent of the fund’s market value. That money is supposed to flow through the state general fund to education, according to the ballot language.
But neither Freidel nor Kriese has any idea if those earmarked funds ever benefit education.
“You don’t know where it goes, because once it moves to the general fund it’s all commingled together,” Freidel said.
Kriese, Freidel and board member Dana Price all commented that sending cement trust fund proceeds to the general fund for education harkens back to the establishment of the state lottery.
It that case, they all said, money supposedly earmarked for education also disappeared into the general fund vacuum to be used for other expenses.
“It’s supposed to be used for education,” Kriese said. “But I don’t know that anyone tracks, dollar-for-dollar, what it’s used for, because it gets mixed in with the budget. When funding comes to our schools, we don’t receive an earmark that says it’s specifically from the cement fund.”
Kriese said she understands the resistance the state’s teachers had to Referred Law 16.
“It’s kind of sad we won’t be able to have more money for education, but hopefully we’ll go through the next legislative session and see where we go from there.”
More money is needed to help attract college students to the teaching profession, Freidel said.
“Hopefully the Legislature will supply those funds in the future.”
The only thing that surprised board member Neil Putnam was the margin of defeat for IM 15 and RL 16.
Fifty-seven percent of voters voted nixed IM 15, and 67 percent gave a thumbs-down to RL 16.
“It was probably due to the strong media attention both received,” Putnam said, adding that their defeat could become a long-term positive.
“One thing everybody agreed on is that education is important, and I’m pleased that the public discourse on education is on everyone’s minds. It’s gotten policy makers and educators talking about education Price said the defeat of IM 15 “surprised the heck out of me.” He believes the massive amount of information on IM 15 and RL 16 confused voters and clouded important issues. “I wish they hadn’t been on the same ballot,” he said. Voters would have supported a time-specific period for a sales tax increase, he contends, but they had difficulty with a tax with no time limit.
Referred Law 16’s many provisions “overreached,” Price said, and positives in the law were tossed out with the bad.
Price, like others on the board, remains hopeful that the defeat of IM 15 and RL 16 will put education funding on the front burner for the 2013 legislative session.
“I truly believe funding for education has to stop being one-time money,” he said.
“Any business, including education, needs a steady income stream to operate successfully.
Board member Eric Christensen theorized IM 15 may have been too drastic but the fact that 43 percent of voters supported the 1 percent sales tax increase was significant.
“There is some support out there,” he said. “Perhaps a half percent sales tax would be more acceptable to voters.
Both education and Medicaid are items in need, Christensen said.
“As Gov. Daugaard said in his budget address, we can’t keep kicking the can down the road. We have to come up with some kind of solution and new funding sources.”
Christensen said 100 percent of Mitchell teachers are highly qualified, and RL 16’s call for a new evaluation system was hard for them to accept.
“How can you ask the general public to impose reviews on teachers when we don’t ask the state to impose reviews on state workers?” he asked.