Posts Tagged ‘education’

GOP to Push Homeschool Tax Credit?

Posted: Thursday, January 6, 2011 at 8:13 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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Let’s see if Kristi Noem will vote to put money in my pocket….

The new GOP majority in the U.S. House includes some members who would like to give homeschooling families a tax break. The New York Times is hosting a discussion on the topic, wherein the Home School Legal Defense Association says a $500 homeschool tax credit would encourage parents to get involved in their kids’ education. Education reform guru Chester Finn says fine, but you don’t get federal money without jumping through federal hoops, like requiring homeschool kids to take more tests. And that prospect sets off the Cato Institute’s Constitutional alarms.

Professional teachers receive a similar tax credit. When I taught at Montrose, the Educator Expense Deduction shaved another $250 off my taxable income, as compensation for books and other educational materials I used on the job. If we offer this compensation to teachers working with the support of a school district, can we justify offering the same compensation to parents doing the same job mostly on their own?

Even though we plan on homeschooling our daughter for at least a few more years, my wife and I still believe in supporting the public school system. We oppose vouchers, in part because they don’t make sense in rural South Dakota (and Rep. Kristi Noem agrees), but in larger part because they drain money directly from school districts and threaten the solvency of the public school system. Some folks have no problem with dismantling public schools,but we recognize that a free society requires free schools for the majority of citizens who either cannot afford to have parents stay home to teach full-time or who simply aren’t intellectually equipped to do so (seriously: how many of you parents could quit work, go home, and teach high school literature, algebra, history, and foreign language?).

A federal tax credit for homeschool does not directly subtract money from local school district budgets; it just leaves a little more money in the pockets of parents who’ve already chosen to pull out of the public system. But it still reduces the support that homeschool parents provide for public goods that they and their children still rely on for their education. Homeschoolers use public libraries and museums; they attend concerts and cultural events supported by public money; they drive on roads to get there.

A homeschool tax credit should set off conservative and liberal alarm bells. The credit opens the doors for federal regulation of homeschool via the IRS. I would think that prospect would kill the idea among my conservative friends. And given the religious motivation of many homeschool parents (my wife and I are in a distinct minority here in Madison, choosing homeschool for purely secular rather than spiritual reasons), my liberal friends can go ape over the potential of federal tax credits subsidizing religious instruction. Mix those two, and politically, the homeschool tax credit looks like it goes nowhere.

If we really think homeschool is a good idea, we might support it better by leaving Uncle Sam out of it and focusing on changing state law. Give local school districts their full per-student allocation for homeschoolers, and in return give homeschoolers full access to all resources of their chosen district.

I won’t complain much if Rep. Noem votes to send more money to help us educate our daughter. But a homeschool tax credit doesn’t doesn’t sound like the best way to do that.

Olson, GOP: No Money for Schools, Plenty to Subsidize Economic Development

Posted: Wednesday, December 29, 2010 at 9:00 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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Incoming (that’s what teachers and school boards should start shouting any time Republicans enter the room) South Dakota Senate Majority Leader Russell Olson demonstrates the warped free market fundamentalism that pollutes our public policy.

At the end of the 2010 Legislative session, Senator Olson voted to short K-12 education millions of dollars, despite the fact there was 2.2% more wealth available in South Dakota. He doesn’t appear to have any vision for avoiding even deeper cuts to education in the 2011 session. Education just isn’t worth more creative thinking and funding in Olson’s world.

But check out what he told the city commission and economic development corporation in Colman about how Tax Increment Finance (TIF) districts work:

Russell Olson, manager of community and economic development for Heartland Consumers Power District in Madison, gave the group an update on Colman’s TIF district.

A TIF is a mechanism used to promote economic development on a local basis. The increased tax revenue is the “tax increment,” which is dedicated to financing debt issued to pay for the project.

“This instrument allows the use of property taxes on a specific project while not harming the general fund of the school district,” Olson said. “The state of South Dakota makes up any shortfall to the school, thus keeping them secure” [Staff, "Colman Officials Discuss TIF District, Future Growth," Madison Daily Leader, 2010.12.27].

Now consider: in Olson’s thinking, Pierre can’t spend more on education itself. Show Olson a school district where they need a foreign language teacher or classroom renovations or cost-of-living increases for staff salaries, and he’ll turn his pockets inside-out and shrug. But show Olson a school district where the city is subsidizing some private developer’s effort to put up new businesses or houses (which just might use more of the electricity Russ’s organization sells), and Pierre can find more money to send.

Education funding should be simple. Kids need to learn. Teachers need to eat. Find the money, invest in our future workers and leaders.

But maybe that sounds too socialist for our Republican leaders. They can’t just spend money on people. They have to construct these Rube Goldberg machines of subsidies for their entrepreneur pals and paste comforting labels of “economic development” on the front, even though TIF districts are a much greater intrusion of government into the free market than funding schools.

I’d suggest that schools could take the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” route, get their local governments to establish TIF districts everywhere they can, and then hit Pierre up for the difference in school-funding revenue. But that only gets more Rube Goldbergy. Let’s just raise revenue by imposing a corporate income tax and use the money to meet the basic democratic and constitutional mandate to provide free education to all citizens.

Madison Central Violating Election Law?

Posted: Thursday, December 16, 2010 at 7:01 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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The more I think about Madison Central School District’s proposed early voting scheme, the more uneasy I get. Beyond creating the awkwardness of voting on a new gym while surrounded by maroon-clad Bulldog basketball fans, the school district may be arranging early-voting that violated state election law.

The school district is offering four means of early voting in the upcoming bond election (I quote verbatim from their PDF):

  • By mail
  • At the business manager’s office in the high school at 800 NE 9th St.
  • At many events and community locations prior to the election.
  • Anyone who wishes to have early voting conducted at their business for their employees can contact the business office at 256-7710 for more information.

Vote by mail? No problem.

Vote at the school business office? Probably not a problem.

Voting at a school event? Problem.

Voting arranged by bosses for employees at workplaces? Big problem.

First, the school offers no reliable list of early-voting polling places. When and where exactly are the school events where voting will be possible? Will Cindy Callies have ballots on hand at every public event at the school? Or will the school district only break out the ballots at sporting events when they see lots of backers of the 2007 new gym project? Will the school avoid setting up a voting booth at, say, the public one-act performance in January, where they might encounter a number of arts supporters who feel the current $16.98 million plan still puts too much emphasis on athletics over academics?

Same with community events: when and where? Given South Dakota’s overwhelming concern with protecting the secret ballot, perhaps a concerned citizen would want to observe the balloting to ensure voters’ rights are protected. How can a poll watcher keep track of the voting if the school is doing it in undisclosed locations?

Arranging voting sessions at employers’ requests at workplaces smells bad, if not worse. State law entitles employees to two hours off work to vote. Letting bosses arrange in-house voting skirts that requirement (mark your circles, then back to work, slaves!). Worse, it opens the door for all sorts of workplace intimidation: Imagine the boss walking in, saying, “O.K., who wants a ballot to vote on the school bond issue?” and then conspicuously noting with a scowl those who don’t take a ballot, presuming to exercise their right to vote in private.

And imagine, just imagine, that employer were Madison Central School District. Principal calls a staff meeting, says, “Hey everyone! Cindy’s here so you can all vote!” and hands out ballots.

I don’t think principals Knowlton, Koch, or Walsh would do such a foolish thing. I hope every boss in town is that prudent. If employees want to vote, employees can request their absentee ballots individually or come to the polls on their own, on official leave as permitted by state law. Their bosses should have no involvement in their voting.

I support early voting and absentee voting. I support government efforts to get more people to vote.

But I also support following the spirit and letter of election law to protect voter rights and ensure complete fairness. The Madison Central School District needs to clarify and likely scale back its early voting plan to ensure its compliance with election law.

And remember, fellow voters: no Bulldog jackets at the polls.

Statute relevant to early voting in the school bond election:

  • SDCL 12-18-1 requires that “All voting at the polling place shall be in private voting booths or compartments and, except as provided in § 12-18-25, shall be screened from observation.”
  • SDCL 12-18-3 says that, at a polling place, no one may “display campaign posters, signs, or other campaign materials or by any like means solicit any votes for or against any person or political party or position on a question submitted or which may be submitted.”
  • SDCL 12-18-9.2 authorizes and requires election officials and the cops to remove any materials violating SDCL 12-18-3 and arrest anyone committing such violations.
  • SDCL 12-18-9 dictates that “Any person, except a candidate who is on the ballot being voted on at that polling place, may be present at any polling place for the purpose of observing the voting process.” Rather difficult to do unless the school publishes a complete list of places, dates, and times where the voting process is taking place.
  • SDCL 12-19-2.1 has a couple of goodies on absentee ballots:
    • To get an absentee ballot, you “may apply in person to the person in charge of the election.” That means one person, Cindy Callies, can legally hand you an absentee ballot. KJAM is reporting Monica Campbell will have ballots; I’m still looking for the statute that authorizes an “election assistant” to distribute absentee ballots.
    • A third party can deliver an absentee ballot is if the voter (a) is confined “because of sickness or disability,” (b) applies in writing, and (c) designates an authorized messenger to carry the ballot.
  • SDCL 12-19-7.2 makes it a Class 2 misdemeanor for any authorized messenger to, “in the presence of the voter at or before the time of voting, display campaign posters, signs, or other campaign materials or by any like means solicit any votes for or against any person, political party, or position on a question submitted.”
  • SDCL 12-1-2 says that all of these Title 12 provisions “apply to township, municipal, school, and other subdivision elections unless otherwise provided by the statutes specifically governing their elections or this title.” I haven’t found any exceptions for school bond elections in Title 13.
  • SDCL 13-7-14 says “Absentee voting shall be permitted in school district elections, including school district bond elections. The school board, with the approval of the county auditor and board of county commissioners, may permit absentee ballots to be voted at the county auditor’s office in the county of jurisdiction.”

Uncle Sam Boosts SD University Budgets

Posted: Friday, December 10, 2010 at 9:12 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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Please tell me Kristi Noem and John Thune won’t send this money back: Governor Rounds’s budget proposal has Uncle Sam giving $54 million more to South Dakota’s public university system in Fiscal Year 2012. That increase is part of $248 million in total anticipated federal funding for Board of Regents programs. Essentially, Uncle Sam picks up 31% of the total $797 million Regental budget.

Some universities come out better than others under the proposed budget. Here’s a chart of the net changes proposed from this year’s budget to next year’s:

Proposed Changes from FY 2011 to FY2012
Location
State Fund
Federal Fund
Other Fund
Total FTE
Total $3,818,909 $53,823,221 $19,902,254 $77,544,384 227.5
Central Office ($6,026) $0 $1,650,845 $1,644,819 0.0
Scholarships $31,642 $0 $0 $31,642 0.0
Employee Compensation and Health Insurance $3,051,208 $1,113,729 $3,181,609 $7,346,546 0.0
USD $178,715 ($2,737,138) $0 ($2,558,423) 0.0
USD Med $106,310 ($1,628,199) $0 ($1,521,889) 0.0
SDSU $247,604 $4,807,787 $11,412,400 $16,467,791 136.5
SDSM&T $80,969 $56,579,910 $1,930,000 $58,590,879 40.0
NSU $48,780 ($747,103) $0 ($698,323) 5.0
BHSU $40,173 ($5,710,280) $477,400 ($5,192,707) 11.0
DSU $39,534 $2,144,515 $1,250,000 $3,434,049 35.0

The biggest chunk of new federal dollars goes to the School of Mines (Tony’s probably building an even bigger laser to pop popcorn at the dean’s house). The biggest jump in jobs, though, comes at SDSU, which gets 60% of the new full-time equivalents.

Dakota State University comes out o.k., with nearly three and a half million more in funding and 35 new jobs. That would make up nicely for the seven teachers the Madison Central School District would have to fire to make up for the $275K Governor Rounds wants to cut from their budget. Maybe we just need to graduate some kids early and send them to DSU.

Rounds Wants Irresponsible 5% Cut in K-12 Education

Posted: Tuesday, December 7, 2010 at 7:34 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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Yesterday the Associated School Boards of South Dakota called on the Legislature to follow the law and increase K-12 education funding by 1.3%. That’s a pretty modest request, given that ASBSD’s position for the past few years has been to call for an overhaul of the funding formula that would direct much more money toward K-12 education.

Hours later, outgoing Governor M. Michael Rounds called on the Legislature to change the law and cut K-12 education funding by 5%. That follows the Legislature’s move last session to rewrite statute and yank a promised 1.2% increase out from under our schools.

This K-12 cut saves $23 million total. The governor’s proposed budget, which he’ll lay out in Pierre this afternoon (covered live on SDPB), still leaves a $37 million deficit.

There’s Mike Rounds’s legacy: years of structural deficits that neither he nor the Republican Legislature had the guts to fix. Rounds’s limp fiscal policy doesn’t even qualify him as a caretaker governor. Today’s budget address promises to be one more wimp-out.

So let’s talk guts: is it really less painful to nickel-and-dime our teachers and kids than it is to cowboy up and raise our taxes? We have about 100,000 students… which leaves about 700,000 of us South Dakotans to pay taxes. Governor Rounds says short each kid $240. I say charge each taxpayer an extra $33 to keep education funded at its already paltry level.

Thing is, you and I are going to end up making up the difference anyway. Odds are your school district and mine will not take a 5% cut. If Governor-Elect Daugaard and Majority Leader Russell Olson pass this plan, you will see opt-outs spring up almost everywhere, as local districts try to fill the gap. Taxes will go up for many South Dakota taxpayers anyway; Governor Rounds just doesn’t have the guts to be the one to ask for it.

The odd thing is that we have the wealth to withstand a tax increase. South Dakota technically never joined the recession: our economy has grown each year. Our GDP went up 2.2% in 2009, and I don’t see data suggesting less growth this year (though I’m open to counter-evidence). The new South Dakota Budget & Policy Project (oh my: this website looks really cool!) says sales tax revenues are looking up.

Our tax system is clearly not tapping the wealth our state is creating. In other words, we aren’t paying the full price of civil society, the cost of maintaining the schools our kids need and that make our wealth-creation possible.

Maybe we shouldn’t get all hot. Maybe this mad-axeman budget is just Governor Rounds’s parting gift to his lieutenant, who come January can ride in and save the day with improved revenue projections and a noble compromise that changes the funding formula to only freeze K-12 funding again rather than cutting it 5%.

In the understatement of the week, Mr. Crissman at DWC calls 5% “noticeable.” I call Rounds’s farewell proposal irresponsible. It’s a non-starter: no guts, no vision, no sense of basic social obligation. Governor Rounds leaves affirming the South Dakota Republican belief that education is an expense, not an investment.

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Bonus Timing: Governor Rounds’s official portrait will be unveiled for public viewing following the budget address. Expect tepid applause… and maybe some Post-It note mustaches.

Fix Madison HS, Save Millions

Posted: Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 8:08 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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To the members of the Madison Central School District Board and Administration:

The Madison Central School District is proposing a $16 million plan to build a new gym and renovate the high school. As a graduate and former employee of Madison High School, I have seen first hand deficiencies in the high school that have warranted repair and upgrade since the 1980s. The $7.4 million proposed for high school renovation will clearly improve the educational environment of our high school.

The new gym portion of this plan, a significant portion of the $8.64 million proposed for new construction, is being portrayed by the district as an educational upgrade to provide space for physical education classes. The district also contends that the new gym will provide necessary auxiliary educational space during the construction period while other classroom space is under renovation.

I am concerned that the district is about to spend millions of dollars on a new gym that is not needed for educational purposes and that might not even be needed as backup classroom space during the high school renovation. If we can save the taxpayers of this district those millions of dollars, we should.

Here’s how:

  1. Assume the bond issue will pass next year and that construction can begin in 2012.
  2. Schedule all physical education classes for high school and middle school for the first semester of academic year 2011–2012. Schedule the classroom health component of that requirement for the second semester, Spring 2012.
  3. Schedule all AY 2012–2013 health classes for first semester, Fall 2012. Schedule all AY 2012–2013 P.E. classes for second semester, Spring 2013.
  4. Begin renovation in January, 2012. Move classes from the under-renovation portions of the high school to available classrooms and the middle school gym, which will have no P.E. classes going on, since all the kids will be in health class.
  5. Enlist students in “school spirit” activities, moving desks, books, and other classroom materials to and from temporary classroom areas. (We did something like this at Montrose when we moved into our new high school building in 2002. Lots of fun… and you’re not paying movers or builders to move stuff.)
  6. Eliminate the state basketball tournament “spring break” holidays, extend the school day, start AY 2011–2012 early, and/or conduct school on Saturdays in Spring 2012 to allow the district to release students for summer break early (May 15? May 10?).
  7. With the school cleared of students early, turn construction crews loose on the entire facility.
  8. Set this firm deadline with the contractor: 80% of high school classroom space must be student-ready by September 15, 2012. Impose big penalties for not meeting this deadline.
  9. Start the school year late, in September 2012 to allow construction crews more time to work without interruption. Missed academic time can be made up by eliminating basketball holidays, extending school days, extending school days, ending this school year late (June 1?), and/or holding school on Saturdays.
  10. Contractors finish renovation and follow-up work by December 31, 2012.
  11. Post-construction, maintain a P.E./health rotation across grades to alleviate need for extra gym space during the school day. (Send me your current schedule, time and facility requirements, and student numbers by grade, and I can spreadsheet a schedule for you by suppertime.) Continue to partner with DSU and community and use other available spaces (gymnastics practice center) to use alternative practice spaces for extracurriculars.

Renovating the building while students are in class may sound radical, but we’ve done it before. Convicts from Governor Janklow’s penitentiary crew wired my Madison High School classroom for Internet* during school hours, while I was teaching grammar, composition, and speech. (If you can teach speech with inmates operating power tools in your vicinity, you can teach anything.)

Changing the school schedule during the construction year may cause some grief. I’m not particularly fond of sending kids to school on Saturday, but with my debate history, I probably wouldn’t notice. Good debate coaches are working most Saturdays from November to March anyway, so I wouldn’t notice much difference. Besides, it’s just for a few months.

This plan can surely use some tweaking from the architect and the building committee. But the general idea is sound: we can renovate the high school and maintain educational opportunities without building a new gym. It will require some inconvenience and sacrifice… but no more than the unnecessary sacrifice of millions of taxpayer dollars and future borrowing/spending capacity your current plan demands.

The high school needs renovation now. The new gym can wait.

As always, I welcome your public comments and consideration of this plan.

Sincerely,
Cory Allen Heidelberger
Madison HS 1989
Current Taxpayer
Potential MHS Bulldog Parent

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*By the way, Governor Janklow was able to Web-wire South Dakota’s K-12 system for 85% less than the original cost projection.

More Opportunity Scholars, More Remedial Classes: What Gives?

Posted: Tuesday, October 19, 2010 at 8:31 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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I’m having trouble reconciling these two news reports about South Dakota’s education system. First the bad news:

Students needing remedial courses in math and English were on the increase again last year at South Dakota’s public universities after several years of improvement, according to a report delivered Wednesday to the South Dakota Board of Regents.

…Twenty-nine percent of the 2,736 university freshman students who graduated high school in 2009 were placed in at least one remedial course because their ACT English scores were below 18 or their ACT math scores were below 20.

…The numbers of students needing one or both of the remedial courses had gradually declined earlier this decade, reaching lows in 2007 of 26 percent overall, nine percent in English and 21 percent in math.

They went back up across the board for 2008 and again in 2009 [Bob Mercer, "More Frosh Need Remedial Courses at State's Colleges," Pierre Capital Journal, 2010.10.15].

Now the good news:

A state-funded merit scholarship supports nearly 350 more South Dakota college freshmen this fall than when the program first started in 2004. Preliminary data report a total of 1,176 incoming freshmen received the Opportunity Scholarship this fall, a 42 percent increase since the first 828 students entered six years ago.

…The 1,176 new Opportunity Scholarship recipients this fall surpasses the all-time high of 1,159 previously set in 2008 ["More Students Qualifying for Opportunity Scholarship," South Dakota state press release, 2010.10.12].

Hmm… more students are successfully completing the rigorous college-prep curriculum required to win the Opportunity Scholarship, yet a large percentage of students, most of them from the very same high South Dakota schools cranking out those high achievers, don’t know enough to pass freshman comp and algebra.

What’s going on here? Aren’t our high schools teaching kids the basic grammar, composition, and math skills they need to survive their 101s at the U? Are we inflating grades to make the kids feel good… and keep them eligible for the basketball team? Are the universities letting kids in who aren’t college-ready, just to grab more tuition dollars?

Readers, your intellectual efforts to resolve this apparent contradiction are welcome!

Madison OKs New Gym, HS Fix… and Solar Panels?

Posted: Tuesday, October 12, 2010 at 6:42 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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The Madison Central School Board green-lighted (green-lit?) the new gym and high school renovations project at its regular meeting last night. The Madison Daily Leader also continued its campaign of spin and obfuscation, referring solely to “renovations” and “new space” and not once mentioning the biggest single item in the $16M package, the new gym.

The school board is clearly alarmed by the bad press here in the blogosphere. In an effort to stanch opposition and bring Madison’s busiest blog on board with the project, architect Jeff Nelson is throwing an obvious bone to the green commentariat:

Jeff Nelson, Baldridge and Nelson president, told the board members that his firm could start working on a “full-blown package.” He said that the package would include a complete floor plan and an energy study that would consider utility cost savings and possible renewable energy use, such as solar and wind generation [Chuck Clement, "Madison School Board Says Yes to Renovations," Madison Daily Leader, 2010.10.11].

Oh! Solar panels! Wind turbines! Well, I’m totally on board now. Forget I said anything bad about building a luxury gym or trying to hide this unnecessary project behind educational necessities. Slap a solar panel on top, and I’m all for it, right?

Actually, I wold be quite pleased to see our high school follow the City of Colton’s lead and move toward energy self-sufficiency. But watch: someone will discover that the low thrum of the wind turbines would distract our Bulldog free-throw shooters, and then the turbines are out.

Madison Board and Press Downplay $8.4M New Gym Proposal

Posted: Sunday, October 10, 2010 at 6:36 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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MDL reports the Madison Central School Board will consider approving a $16 million construction project, the majority of which, $8.64 million, would be spent on building the fabled and elusive new gym.

The funny thing is, as I read through this report on the coming decision on the new gym, I find reporter Chuck Clement seeming to go to great pains to avoid mentioning the new gym. Start with the headline: “Board to Consider Action on MHS Renovations.” Renovations—not new construction, but renovations, the smaller portion of the project, gets the lead. Perhaps we can cut Clement some slack here: he’s simply following the language of the school board agenda, which refers strictly to high school renovations and makes no mention of the new gym.

But then count paragraphs: the MDL article has 19. We don’t find one word about the new gym until paragraph 16, by which point 90% of readers have long since turned to the classifieds and entertainment news. Prior to paragraph 16, every line is carefully crafted with the words the board wants to use to sell this project as a necessity and downplay the enormous expense for play-space:

  • Paragraph 8 mentions the 65,700 square feet that will be renovated for $7.4 million first. Then the paragraph turns to the apparently secondary information that we will build “62,000 square feet of new space that would cost about $8.64 million.”
  • The very next paragraph details the science, music, culinary, woodworking, and auto mechanics space we’ll get from the renovation.
  • Following are code changes, energy efficiency gains, ADA compliance, technology upgrades… all the reasons board president Jay Niedert says this project is necessary “to provide the best education for students” (Clement’s paraphrase).

Given all the necessary improvements to our high school, we probably shouldn’t be surprised that the board doesn’t want to talk about the unnecessary new gym that’s taking up more than half the funding for this project.

But the snow job falls apart at paragraph 16:

Most of the new space in the proposal would involve the construction of a new gym just north of the current middle school gym. School officials have argued during previous school board meetings that critics of the project have focused too much attention on the new gym proposal [Chuck Clement, "Board to Consider Action on MHS Renovations," Madison Daily Leader, 2010.10.08].

Actually, it seems that, given where the majority of the money is headed, it’s the school board that’s focusing too much attention on building a new gym.

According to Niedert, constructing a new building isn’t practical in the present economic environment, so renovating the high school provides a good compromise. He added that the current school building still offers many good features.

“It’s really a matter of having a modern facility and doing major renovations to get things up to code,” Niedert said [Clement, 2010.10.08].

Wait: building a new building isn’t practical… unless it’s a new gym building? Now I’m really confused. If the economics won’t support spending a few extra million to build a new instructional space, how can the board tell us the economics do support spending even more on play space for a small fraction of the student population and seats for a couple thousand people to sit and spectate?

Renovating the high school is a great idea. I hope the school board passes that $7.4 million part of the plan. I hope they scratch the $8.64 million directed at the new gym and apply some of that money toward real educational improvements for the high school.

I also hope they and the local press quit with the word games and admit this project is more about building a new gym than renovating the high school.

Education: Heidepriem Plan vs. Daugaard Hopes and Wishes

Posted: Thursday, September 16, 2010 at 6:50 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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I feel another elephant-in-the-room commercial coming on….

Dennis Daugaard’s new education plan is a lot like the impression I’ve gotten of Daugaard himself during the gubernatorial campaign: decent, reasonable, mild… and missing the biggest point. Ask any teacher, administrator, or school board member to name the biggest problem facing South Dakota’s K-12 system, and I’ll bet nine times out of ten, the answer will be “Funding.” Yet as Rutland’s Dr. Fahrenwald observes, the Daugaard plan does not address the heart of the funding problem.

Oh, Daugaard does mention funding. His “Commitment to Funding Education” gets a full page and spillover. He speaks of hope and consider and scrutiny and conversation. He even recognizes the basic market fact that we may need to pay more to recruit and retain the best teachers. But Daugaard never says what practical policies he would pursue to put more money into our schools. Daugaard plays my old Republican line: he thinks everything can be solved by magic. Cut regulations, don’t raise taxes, wait for the economy to recover, and presto! the problem will solve itself! (What is it this year with Republicans and magic tricks?)

Daugaard ignores his own administration’s raiding of new stimulus assistance to reduce state expenditures on education this year (Dennis, M. Mike: if you want to recover from the recession, you have to spend the stimulus dollars in addition to already allocated spending). Daugaard doesn’t even really commit to increasing funding. Instead, he defends the Legislature’s decision this year to deny our schools the funding increase they were promised by law while giving a foreign oil giant TransCanada $38 million in tax breaks.

Daugaard’s challenger, Democrat Scott Heidepriem, is all over the Republicans on this issue. Heidepriem sets some clear funding objectives: he plans to restore education funding to Janklow-era levels of 39% of the general fund, up from the 31% to which the Rounds Administration has let it drop. Heidepriem then tells us where he’ll get the money to make that happen:

  1. Require the State’s Education budget to be adopted by the midpoint of each legislative session.
  2. Close the Loophole in the Contractor’s Excise Tax and restore TransCanada’s $10.5 million for education.
  3. Reduce the size of state government in several ways including the elimination of “phantom” state FTEs (Full Time Employees).
  4. Sell the State’s unnecessary “surplus” airplanes.
  5. Eliminate “no-bid” contracts where state business is currently doled out without a competitive, free-market process [from Heidepriem campaign press release, 2010.09.15].

Now this release doesn’t guarantee those numbers add up to the 39% level. Passing the budget earlier only shorten the procrastination period and move the rush back four weeks. Selling the planes will provide mostly a one-time savings, though there will still be ongoing savings from maintenance. But shutting the tax loopholes and making TransCanada pay its fair share are definite winners for education. And where Daugaard’s faith in the free market excuses him to sit around and do nothing, Heidepriem actually applies free-market principles to government contract procedures to save us money.

On education, Daugaard is offering stale free-market fundamentalist wishes and dreams. Heidepriem is offering a practical plan. Advantage Heidepriem.