SD lawmakers reject teacher tenure billLegislation arising from election sought local option on continuing contracts.
By: Bob Mercer, Republic Capitol Bureau
PIERRE — In November, South Dakota voters rejected a sweeping package of changes that had been passed by Republican legislators and the governor for K-12 schools. When one of those pieces was attempted again Thursday, a legislative committee respected that 57.6 percent majority of voters.
The Senate Education Committee voted 4-3 to reject an attempt to let each local school board decide whether to observe continuing contract protections, sometimes called “tenure,” in its district. Currently, the provisions apply statewide.
“It is too soon,” said the committee’s chairman, Sen. Mark Johnston, R-Sioux Falls, whose mother at age 71 is a retired teacher who continues to serve some 80 days annually as a substitute teacher. Johnston cast the deciding vote.
The sponsor of SB 187, Sen. Al Novstrup, R-Aberdeen, recalled the “large discussion” last year about education reform in HB 1234.
“We never had a chance to vote on those separately and the voters never had a chance to vote on those separately,” he said.
Novstrup said he’s not taking a position on continuing contract protections but wants to give local school boards the ability to make the decisions.
“If they choose to do nothing, that’s one of their options,” he said.
No one else testified in favor.
Sandra Waltman, of the South Dakota Education Association, spoke against it. SDEA led the referral drive against the package last year. She said protection of teacher rights is so “paramount” they must be left to the state.
Waltman explained that teachers serve a probationary period of three years when they can be dismissed with no reason given. For teachers with four or more years, continuing contract protections grant teachers the right to appeal dismissal decisions.
She said the real priority should be ensuring qualified and quality teachers. SDEA is involved in a new collaboration to identify strategies to strengthen teacher quality.
Another of the opponents was Steve O’Brien, an English teacher at Watertown High School. He said there’s no incentive for effective evaluation of teachers if teachers can be fired at will.
“Due process rights need to be protected at the state level,” O’Brien said. “We should be looking to promote the best teaching in our state … We should look to raise all boats, not sink the ones currently afloat.”
Sen. Chuck Welke, D-Warner, retired in 2010 after 35 years as a teacher, coach and administrator. “First of all, the people have spoken,” he said, referring to the November vote.
Teachers get a message from legislators and state government about their value, he said, and Novstrup’s measure was another of what he described as the “unnecessary bills that makes their lives miserable.”
He said he worries South Dakota won’t have teachers because they can make more money in other professions.
“Let’s quit really making it difficult for them to do their jobs,” Welke said.