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MERCER: Governor is realistic on cabinet vacancies

PIERRE — Gov. Dennis Daugaard explained the other day why he chose interim replacements for several top vacancies recently.

Daugaard, who plans to head home to Dell Rapids when his second term ends in January, said it's unrealistic to ask "high profile and capable people" to take what could be short-term posts.

David Zolnowsky retired in March as the governor's commissioner for the state Bureau of Information and Telecommunications. He served about six years. Daugaard chose BIT veteran Pat Snow as interim commissioner.

Mike Jaspers resigned effective July 1 as the governor's secretary of agriculture to take a job as business development director for East River Electric Cooperative. He served two years. Daugaard named the state veterinarian, Dustin Oedekoven, as interim secretary.

Don Kirkegaard stepped down as the governor's secretary of education in July too, leaving for a job as the superintendent for a school district in Wisconsin.

Kirkegaard started the state post Jan. 1. Before that, he was superintendent for Meade School District in Sturgis. Daugaard named the deputy secretary of education, Mary Stadick Smith, as interim secretary for the final months.

Kirkegaard had been president of the state Board of Education Standards while he headed the Meade district. The resignation by Education Secretary Melody Schopp late last year created a dilemma for Daugaard.

"We thought we should at least try," Daugaard said.

The governor was still trying to accomplish some major changes in South Dakota's K-12 schools.

New requirements were taking shape for high school graduation. Legislators would want a secretary's opinions during the 2018 session that started in January.

The governor's office, through his administration's departments of labor and education, had recently started the Career Launch pilot programs in the Yankton, Rapid City, Brookings and Sioux Falls school districts. Controversial Common Core standards were being replaced. And the U.S. Department of Education was loosening federal requirements as the era of No Child Left Behind ended.

Kirkegaard needed permission from the Meade school board to leave mid-contract for the state appointment.

Daugaard said Kirkegaard might be looking right away for his next job. "We knew it might be a six-month or seven-month appointment," Daugaard said.

Kirkegaard was making the final trip of his move to West Bend, Wisconsin, on July 16 when the Board of Education Standards held the public hearing in Pierre on the graduation changes. He met the governor at the meeting.

The standards received final clearance Monday from the Legislature's Rules Review Committee on a 4-2 vote. The nays came from Sen. Lance Russell, R-Hot Springs, and Rep. Steven Haugaard, R-Sioux Falls.

Daugaard said the changes came from superintendents at larger-enrollment districts. He said they brought the concept to him at their meeting in October.

"It wasn't me having to convince the school superintendents," Daugaard said.

They want students to have more flexibility, according to Daugaard. He said a student would be able get a basic diploma or add up to three endorsements.

He noted the state board unanimously accepted the changes: "I think that says something."

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