Monday, April 27, 2015

State Screams of "NOT MY JOB" Puts Pressure on Property Taxes for Schools

The Rutland School is faced with the difficult task of going to the polls to opt-out to get funding that will allow them to be some-what competitive with other districts when it comes to paying their teachers.    The issue is that districts are not able to keep up with the costs thanks to the lack of vision from the state.  

The state loves to use vague statements about how they do so much for education.  That it is all on the school boards and local schools to deal with the problems.  Why should the state be the one to make sure that all students can receive a sound educational opportunity?

The Superintendent of Rutland explains the need for the opt-out on KELO TV:

"Something does need to be done because we have teachers who are leaving who can't make ends meet with the salary that we have and that's sad," Merager said. 
A renewal amount needs to be higher than the original $100,000 opt out to have any impact on teachers’ salaries. The district is proposing an additional $350,000. 
"What we are looking at doing with that is looking at an increase of $4,000 to $5,000 for our teachers over the next several years; it will keep us from falling further behind is what it will do," Fahrenwald said.

The problem that Rutland is forced to deal with is that they have been $6,000 behind other schools their size according to Rutland experienced teacher Jill Merager.  So, why not just rely on the opt-out to solve the problem?  Clearly they are slacking on paying their fair-share.  Not so fast say Superintendent Fahrenwald:

South Dakota has the lowest contribution of state dollars toward public education in the nation. 
"We are very comparable when we look at local tax dollars that go to education we are very comparable to other states. But the state funding piece of that is missing and we are hopeful that the governor's task force will address that issue," Fahrenwald said. 
Let us all hope that will be the case, but Daugaard's administration must also be willing to listen to the recommendations and not use excuses to ignore the problems like they did after last year's panel on education in South Dakota. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Daugaard Must Look Past Blaming Schools For Not Providing the Funding

The Education Blue Ribbon Task Force on Education has set dates and times for the public meetings on education.  These are available on the sparse website dedicated to the task force.  

June 2 @ 6:30 PMPublic MeetingChamberlain (location TBD)
June 3 @ 6:30 PMPublic MeetingRapid City (location TBD)
June 16 @ 6:30 PMPublic MeetingSioux Falls (location TBD)
June 17 @ 6:30 PMPublic MeetingYankton (location TBD)
June 22 @ 6:30 PMPublic MeetingWatertown (location TBD)
June 23 @ 6:30 PMPublic MeetingAberdeen (location TBD)

While it is good to see that they have already had some meetings.  One problem with the group is that Daugaard attempts to set a tone that it must be the schools fault for the low teacher salaries.
We need to understand where teacher shortages are occurring and what can be done to address them. We need to ask why 12 states can spend less per student than South Dakota, yet pay their teachers more. We need to ask why, even as we hear growing concerns about teacher salaries, many schools' reserve funds are increasing. These questions need to be answered with hard data, not anecdotes or opinion surveys. 
The problem is that you cannot have a conversation, when you say that we need data and you cherry pick data that makes the state look wonderful.  The Governor wants hard data, so here is some hard data from the federal government reported by the census department.  The numbers are set for 2012 funding levels.

In 2012 the funding from the state was at $395,054,000 from the state for 142,783 K-12 students.  This puts the states rank of contribution per student at 49th.  The only state that we are ahead of is Arizona.  This put the states level of education contribution at 30.5% and this puts us dead last out of 50.  DEAD LAST.  

This is not an anecdote.  This is not an opinion survey.  This is hard data that the state can't ignore.  Traditionally, salaries are impacted by the total state aid offered.  The local property taxes are used mostly for the reoccurring expenses like heating, transportation, and capital outlay.  The other major source is federal money which is 16.4% and that puts as first for relying on federal monies.  

I can only hope the panel will bring this back to the Governor and tell him that he should stop claiming that the state government does SO much and it must be on the backs of the local districts.  

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

My Humble Suggestions for the Blue Ribbon Education Panel

Daugaard is going to rely on a panel to investigate how to deal with problems in getting and hanging onto quality teachers in South Dakota.  This panel has already been shown to have several members that are not necessarily fans of teachers or public education in general.  The evidence keeps piling up, but to possibly cover all possible excuses offered by the GOP on why they do not need to look for additional revenue to improve the funding for education, I offer the following points to consider.

1. The reason that some schools have drawing and keeping teachers is complicated.

It is difficult to encourage young, new teachers to move out to the middle of the state like Winner or Ipswich.  I suppose we could run commercials that compare those cities to the moons of Jupiter, or we could recognize that complaining about the small, rural schools location will not do anything to get teachers there.  My experience has shown that we need to make the teaching field look admirable and you can get people that grew up in the area to come back to teach.  

Another issue forcing teachers to look for alternative occupations, despite a desire to shape young minds is the mind-numbing hoops established by the state and other institutions.  As described on the website explains it:

But what about professional development and adequate training cited by so many educational leaders as the reason for the mass exodus? 
Not one teacher I asked mentioned college of education programs or lack of professional development. In fact, many teachers feel over-saturated with professional development and are frustrated that PD has become a vessel for an onslaught of unsupported district and state mandates.
With things like SLOs, Smarter Balanced, Write to Learn, ICU, and a number of new methods/concepts for teachers to adjust too without additional time to really try and understand it properly, teachers are feeling overwhelmed.  

A third issue to continuing to teaching is a general lack of respect.  Teachers continue to work very hard to educate students, but more and more often are being seen as a villain when an arbitrary test score on a test that has no consequence for students says the student is not proficient.  NPR reported last month:

The job also has a PR problem, McDiarmid says, with teachers too often turned into scapegoats by politicians, policymakers, foundations and the media. 
"It tears me up sometimes to see the way in which people talk about teachers because they are giving blood, sweat and tears for their students every day in this country. There is a sense now that, 'If I went into this job and it doesn't pay a lot and it's a lot of hard work, it may be that I'd lose it.' And students are hearing this. And it deters them from entering the profession."
 Why would a young person continue in teaching when they are to blame for everything and are considered lazy and should be happy with what they get paid.  

2. What can a state government do about these issues?  They could reduce the amount of new, quick fix tricks to improve education and rely on tried and tested concepts of education.  The state can stop buying into a program and then pull the funding after 4 years forcing everyone to go to something new.  The state politicians could stop trying to compare teachers in unequal competition models, and role up their sleeves to honor all the hard work teachers invest each day.  The state could stop trying to pass bills that are based on criticizing and hurting public education because it is a "failure."

They could do all those things, but they would be minor to one action that the state could do that would have a real impact:  Increase funding for our schools.  

The state taking steps to increase funding for education and tackle means of increasing revenue says that education is vital.  It is a very, very important profession and they are willing to take the steps to address those needs.  The state would also provide for schools to have more flexibility to reduce the stress on teachers to do more because they are unable to hire the positions to educate students.  

Richard Ingersoll, a former high school teacher and now professor that studies teacher retention, was quoted in an Atlantic article in 2013:

“Respected, well-paid lines of work do not have shortages,” Ingersoll says. He adds that he is happy with his new career, but he would still be a high school history teacher had it not been for the lack of respect and low salary he experienced. For a lot of teachers I spoke with, this seems to be the common sentiment: If the overall attractiveness of teaching as a profession gets better, the best teachers will enter the profession, stay, and help increase the effectiveness of schools. 
“To improve the quality of teaching,” Ingersoll says, you need to “improve the quality of the teaching job.” And, “If you really improve that job… you would attract good people and you would keep them.”
Please leave the excuses for not increasing funding for education outside the panel meetings.  They will do nothing but make the problem worse.  

Leave the blaming of greedy public teachers outside the room when exploring the problem.  You can take some helpful steps, if only you are willing to find the courage to do so. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Opting-Out for Funding Can Not Be the State's Solution for Education

Today in education funding news, Cory Heidelberger reports on the serious problem that some northeast schools are having in keeping music teachers.  One of biggest hinderance to keeping teachers in the field is pay.  This is nothing new to anyone.  Some people still like to stick their head in the sand and say that this is not the only reason (its not, but it is a big one), and some like to put all the blame on the local districts (the vast majority of districts watch every penny they can spend very carefully).  Rep. Lee Schoenbeck offers his suggestion for dealing with the problem: schools should opt-out if they want to have teachers.  He writes in one post:
Cory –I’m an advocate of the legislature acting on this issue, and I believe we will this next session, but there is an interesting and obvious question you aren’t exploring. Under the current law, EVERY Supt has the ability – with his or her school board, to propose an opt out for the purpose of raising educator salary to a competitive point — yet none have! You should ask: Why not? Do they not see the need (the article seems to belay that concern)? Do they not think they can convince the patrons in their district of the need (the same voters legislators have to convince on a more remote basis)? Are they scared? Are they unconcerned? What other options are there for this dereliction to their duty to aide in the education of the young people in their districts?Its worth asking — and don’t take excuses — why do they play their fiddle while education in their district burns?
One of the problems with this issue is that many schools have already gone the route of the opt-out.  In an April 16, 2013 article the Associated School Boards of South Dakota posted the following graph:

As you can see, the level of opt-outs has already substantially increased.  This is despite the fact that if the opt-out requires a public vote, a super-majority of 60% of voters must agree with it.  Many of those voting may not have children enrolled in the school.  

Remember that Tea Area needed four separate votes to pass building construction for its district despite having to rely on outbuildings for classrooms.  Even when taking out an auditorium, 27% of the people that voted said, "Nope, those kids don't need a real classroom."  Relying on the opt-out just allows the state to avoid its basic responsibilities for meeting the needs of students.  For another example, one can look at Rapid City and the fact that they will also need to face a vote that risks many of the offerings that students can use for an enriched education.

It is up to the state government to make some of the tough decisions about helping fund our education and not kicking the can down the road to local property tax payers.  Mr. Schoenbeck, ask yourself what would happen if you had to put any of your hourly rates up to a public vote, first through a board of 7 publicly-elected individuals who may or may not understand how the law works, and then to a public vote of 60% of the public who may or may not directly use your services.  Just a thought.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Only the GOP Could Make Life on Mars Look Better than South Dakota

What do South Dakota and Mars have in common?  Little aliens running around with Pu-36, a giant land mass that looks like a face on it, or a barren wasteland that promises little more than hardships and death.

If you picked the second one, you were probably thinking about Mount Rushmore, but that several faces and not one mysterious face placed by aliens.  The correct answer is a barren wasteland.  At least that is how many people not living in this state see it and our Governor.  

South Dakota continues to struggle to figure out why they can't get more people to come to South Dakota for the low wages and great faces.  Despite the fact that they could ask pretty much anyone not in the GOP political machine or a business owner that contributes to the political machine, they decided to have Lawrence and Schiller do some focus group studies.  Some of the responses reported in the Argus Leader today include:
"My friends would think I'm crazy to go to either of the Dakotas, because they probably just think it's a barren wasteland, that there's not much to do, not much job opportunities. It gets cold there. Really cold there."...
"South Dakota is mainly cattle, sheep, horses, livestock … living off the ranch, taking care of the ranch. It's not as industrial, not as technical."... 
"If you're not in that tourism industry, I don't think the opportunities are there."
They also thought there weren't as many opportunities to change employers, and that there were limited opportunities for movement within the company, small family-owned businesses, suburban office parks and lower salaries.
So what is the solution, rebrand yourself without changing yourself!  We don't need to offer more wages, we should stay a right to work state that focuses on the needs of the employer over the needs of the worker, we don't need to offer access to more health with expanded Medicare, we don't need to show that education is important in our state.  We spend a bunch of money on tourism, but all we get out of that is Mount Rushmore, Sturgis, motorcycles, and prairies.  

The most interesting comment is a statement by Pat Costello on the lack of a state income tax:
"One of our mantras for business is no state income tax," Costello said. "That didn't resonate with individuals. Individuals viewed that as maybe the state doesn't have good education or fire protection or crime might be high or the park system not adequate. That was almost a quality of life deterrent."
I am sure this will be remembered when trying to find ways to get more funding for education in our state.  Until we start doing things differently in this state, living will be the only benefit over Mars for most people that do not live in this state. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Children Are More Than Economic Cogs

The battle over start date for Sioux Falls will continue despite the recent vote.  This time it appears students are trying to get involved: (Keloland)
Some Sioux Falls students say they should have a say in the school calendar. A social media campaign is speaking out against the vote, which pushed the school start date to after Labor Day for the next three years. The group, called Let Students Decide, launched on Facebook on Tuesday. There is also a hashtag: #LetStudentsDecide. By Thursday afternoon, nearly 1,000 people Liked the Facebook page.
An interesting idea to try and hear from the voices of students.  This is not a post on if schools should or should not start after Labor Day.  There are benefits and negatives on both sides of the issue.  While some younger students may have a benefit from starting after Labor Day without much impact and there will be little impact by staying in school until June, high school students will actually pay a bigger price with impacts to AP testing, sports, and longer school burn-out as they wait to get out until June.  The ants in the pants will be at an extreme level for high school students.  

This is more about groups trying to decide issues impacting our youth based on what is good for their bottom line.  We are seeing more and more moves to make sure that decisions are not based on what is good for the child's growth and development, but instead it is based on what is good for the economy.

In the recent debate over the start date, the "Vote No" group was strongly supported by tourism groups.
Pankratz is a lobbyist for the Visitor Industry Alliance, a tourism advocacy group that spearheaded a failed ballot measure in 2006 that would have forced all schools in South Dakota to wait until September to start classes. 
The same group has supported later-start advocates in Sioux Falls. 
Are we to think that the Visitor Industry Alliance is really worried about what is best for the education of our children?  Come on, they are worried about if they can squeeze a few more dollars out for their businesses.  Businesses were some of the biggest supporters of the group that  changed the calendar:

The single biggest donation to either side, $2,600, came from the South Dakota Visitor Industry Alliance, which is affiliated with the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The second biggest donation, $2,500, came from a Sioux Falls water park...

Of all reporting, Voice in Local Control, raised the most, bringing in $8,739, and spending $3,889. Most of the money was spent on yard signs and other advertising efforts, McDonnel said.
The organization also received donations from Burger King, Culligan Sioux Falls, Lockwood Law office, plus more than $2,000 in individual donations and nonitemized contributions.

When you combine actions of businesses trying to dictate education policy for its own profit along with action being done to lower the minimum wage law because there is benefit in using children for less money and not for the convoluted "it will help them in the long run" excuses given, you can see an all out sacrifice of our children for the dollar.  

If your reasoning for supporting the Labor Day start was based solely on how it would improve the life of a child, then I am fine with that.  If your reasoning was to support it because it would allow more children to hang out and spend money at Wild Water West, then SHAME ON YOU!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Taxes and GOP Lies on Taxes

They say that the only thing certain in this world is death and taxes.  As Thune and the SDGOP continue to talk about the estate tax, I think that we can add lies as they try to cross off taxes for themselves.  

Thune has been making rounds trying to claim that he is for the little guy when it come to protecting them from taxes; however, he fails to point out that the only people protected will be the BIG guys.  In the Rapid City Journal and several other places, Thune has been making a claim that small farmers are at risk of losing the family farm that has been in families for generations.  OHH, THAT MEAN GOVERNMENT!

He writes:
Here in South Dakota, we are land rich and cash poor, leaving roughly one-third of South Dakota farms vulnerable to the death tax, based on cropland values provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Later on he uses the family farm line again-
Ninety-eight percent of farms in South Dakota are family owned and operated, and according to the South Dakota Department of Agriculture, over 2,500 South Dakota farms have been in the same family for more than 100 years. In some cases, families have to sell land just to pay the death tax, which punishes farmers and entrepreneurs for a lifetime of hard work. 
Boy, that is scary.  Fortunately for more than 99.5% of us, this is no where near a threat.  The exemption from the tax is set at $5.3 million for an individual.  If married, that number is doubled to $10.6 million.  That sounds like a lot of South Dakotans here in South Dakota.  Wait, a minute... okay, I don't know anyone that has that kind of scratch, but I am a teacher.  So I asked Thune exactly how many farms are impacted by this terrible burden every year?  I will let you know when I hear something back.  In the mean time,

Fact shared some information in regards to Thune's statements:  Here are the highlights:
As a result, roughly 3,700 estates, about 0.12 percent of the total, had to pay any estate taxes last year. The estate tax is a tax on the transfer of an estate through a will or other means after a person dies.
and this
Thune is also citing an outdated statistic. The report referred to 2000, when the estate tax exemption was $675,000. It’s now $5.4 million. But even with the lower exemption, the CBO found that there were just 138 farms in the whole U.S. that might not have enough liquid assets to cover the amount they owed in estate taxes. The report also ran calculations with a few hypothetical figures, including if the exemption were $3.5 million. (In inflation-adjusted dollars, that comes to about $4.8 million in 2015, so it’s much closer to the actual estate tax exemption today.) Assuming that higher $3.5 million exemption, the report estimated there were 13 estates of farmers that would have insufficient liquid assets to pay the estate tax liability. The value of farmland has outpaced inflation since 2000, so presumably that number could be higher now. But we’re still talking about a very small number of farms. 
and this
According to a Congressional Research Service report in 2013, less than 1 percent of farm operator estates is projected to pay any estate tax. 
And that’s because there are exemptions for farmers and small businesses written into the estate tax code that allow most farmers — with a bit of estate planning — to avoid the estate tax altogether. For example, if the heirs agree to farm the land for another 10 years, they can get up to a $1 million exemption by valuing land at its farm use value rather than development value. An additional $500,000 exemption is possible if one agrees to a perpetual conservation easement restricting the use of the land. It is also possible to reduce the value of an estate by giving portions of the estate to heirs as a gift over a number of years. For a full description of exemptions available to farmers, see this Congressional Research Service report, starting on page 2. 
So it appears that Thune is not being truthful because the facts are not as scary as he claims.  Cutting it would add over $320 billion to our deficit in the next 10 years and only benefit .2% of the population.  Thune claims he wants a balanced budget with increased spending on military and decreased revenue from basically everywhere but lower and middle class.  This can't happen of course, so, he must rely on scaring people with less than half-truths to make sure they don't think about the reality.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A Late Note on Indiana and Discrimination in Area Schools

I know that a lot of people have been talking about Indiana's actions to try and make it okay to discriminate against people for "religious" reasons.  This is something that our own state has and will continue to deal with.  You may remember SB 67 that was thrown around in our legislative body last year or SB 128 that actually received some hearings before it was tabled to death.  This type of thinking in South Dakota is nothing new to us.  As Cory Heidelberger pointed out in 2014,
But South Dakota's law and these proposals from our legislators make our state look bad. SB 128 has drawn negative out-state attention.
The idea that I do not have to sell you cake because I disagree with your lifestyle choice and then use religion as the justification is wrong.  My biggest issue with these attitudes is  the selectivity of what biblical mandates one wishes to follow shows the hypocrisy of those making the argument.  Church's that say they cannot allow a gay couple to marry are quiet about two divorced individuals marrying even though that is a bit clearer in the New Testament:  Matthew 5: 31-32, Mark 10: 2-12, Luke 16:18, Romans 7:2-3, and 1 Corinthians 7: 11-13 as just a few examples.

If a church chooses not to wed someone because it violates its religious beliefs, then I am okay with that church saying that it can not perform a religious service evoking the name of God in the process when it goes specifically against that institution.  There is no such flower institution or cake institution or pizza institution that has certain religious belief structures.  Nor should that church be able to dictate the actions of a different institution.

I think that this is true when it comes to persons working for an institution, even a religious institution, that is performing tasks that one's lifestyle would not contradict the institutions fundamental belief structure.  Recently, I have been made aware of two different Catholic schools that have either refused to hire or are firing a person simply because that person is living in a same-sex relationship.  

The first case involves a young speech teacher and coach at Skutt Catholic school in Omaha, Nebraska.  In this situation, the teacher did not have his contract renewed simply because of his sexual orientation and the fact that he and his partner got engaged:
English teacher and Speech coach, Matt Eledge, told the WOWT 6 News Team that he will likely lose his job because of his sexual orientation. The women who started the petition are his assistant speech coaches and former students, Kacey Hughes and Megan Cable. The two now attend UNL.
In another situation, just next door in Iowa, a teacher that was verbally told that he would be getting a position was told that wouldn't happen because a social media search indicated that he was in a committed relationship with a man.  The reasoning given:
Bishop Richard Pates is the leader of the Des Moines Diocese. He said that McCubbin wasn't denied the job because he's gay, but due to the openness of his sexual orientation. 
“We accept everybody, we love everybody. Everybody is always welcome within the context of the Catholic Church,” Pates said. 
So in this person's mind, it is a sin to be who you are and let anyone know about that.  In both situations, it would be up to the schools to prove that they had no one working there that was remarried from a divorce, no one that is in a relationship and not married, or a plethora of other sins.  These men were not teaching biblical studies.  They did not advocate a homosexual lifestyle to their students.  They simply wanted to challenge young minds in either speech/English or social studies.  

The Indiana law was wrong.  What the Catholic schools in the area are doing is also wrong.  I would urge my fellow speech teachers and coaches to think long and hard before attending a tournament that is held at one of these schools.  Invite them and treat their students with grace, because the students had nothing to do with the actions of the school, but do not endorse the actions with your entry fees.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

You Know Teacher Pay Is a Problem in South Dakota When...

Happy Easter everyone.  

I always got a chuckle out of Jeff Foxworthy when he did his, "you might be a redneck..." jokes.  It is the open ended quality of the joke that I enjoy.  I think we could apply the same philosophy on a more serious issue if we change up the phrase.  You know teacher pay is a problem in South Dakota when....

I think if we create a long enough list, then maybe Pierre will understand when they have their little panel meetings, that this is an issue that can't be ignored anymore.  I will start us off from a recent editorial in the Aberdeen newspaper.

You know teacher pay in South Dakota is a problem when NORTH DAKOTA is telling you to FIX IT!  Ellendale, North Dakota, superintendent, Jeff Faustnacht, points out how our in ability to pay teachers is hurting South Dakota.
Low pay, NCLB and highly competitive neighbors are all pulling your best and brightest away from you. When will Pierre take notice? 
It was not until this year that I ran into two perfect examples of how detrimental this pay differential is for South Dakota. Ellendale is only 35 minutes north of Aberdeen, so when we post for applicants we look in both North and South Dakota. My first example was a first-year English teacher with no education beyond her bachelors. She was an exceptional candidate and we offered her a position. 
To my dismay, that offer was in excess of $5,000 more than her present salary. She did not end up taking our offer, but engagements do funny things. Next, we ran into a husband and wife team from down by Yankton. They were NSU grads that had been teaching 20-plus years each. They had masters’ degrees, did many duties and were highly regarded by their present school. With that experience and education, they were presently being paid less than Ellendale’s base salary. That is shameful! We ended up getting both to agree to move north and they probably made over $25,000 in additional salary. 
Wouldn’t you move for that? South Dakota, you lost. Your schools are losing their very best every day, when will you notice? 
I encourage you to submit some of your own "You know teacher pay is a problem when..." examples.