Is my boss telling me to sit down and be quiet? And am I telling my boss he's wrong? That's how you might oversimplify the South Dakota School Superintendents Association's request to the South Dakota Education Association to drop its drive to refer HB 1234 to a public vote:
The executive board of the South Dakota School Superintendents Association wrote a letter last month to the South Dakota Education Association urging them to "consider not moving forward with your petition drive" on House Bill 1234 [Josh Verges, "Teachers Get No Help on Reform Law Referral," that Sioux Falls paper, 2012.04.05].
Are the superintendents saying they think Governor Daugaard's education reform package is a good idea? No, mostly not. They're worried that the referendum campaign against HB 1234 will get in the way of the campaign to pass Initiated Measure 15, the education and health care communities' effort to pass an extra-penny sales tax, and to defeat last year's HB 1230:
Brookings Superintendent Roger DeGroot, the SDSSA president, said most superintendents think HB1234 is bad policy, but they'd like the union to focus its efforts on the sales tax initiative.
"I don't think anyone worked harder than me" to defeat HB1234, he said, "but we need that $90 million in education" [Verges, 2012.04.05].
The SDSSA's board worries that we can't handle explaining to voters why they should vote No on HB 1234 (not to mention No on Referred Law 14) but vote Yes on Initiated Measure 15.
Um, excuse me, boss? At Montrose, you hired me to teach literature, speech, composition, and algebra all in one day. At Spearfish, I now have the relative ease of just two preps, French I and French II. Some teachers have six different preps and coach after school. I think we can handle doing two things at once.
SDEA exec Bryce Healy notes that some superintendents are still working to defeat HB 1234 by circulating referendum petitions. Healy says those superintendents and other circulators are not having to work very hard to educate voters to get their signatures. Says Healy, "This is the easiest petition I've ever circulated."
The SDSSA board is missing the strong possibility that putting HB 1234 on the ballot will motivate education supporters to come to the polls and defeat Referred Law 14 and pass Initiated Measure 15. Education organizations face a hard sell on getting voters to approve IM 15's new tax, but at the very least, urging voters to reject a separate money-wasting policy won't hurt that effort. It may even enhance our fiscal credibility. Instead of just arguing that the schools need more money (and our conservative opponents are ready to hammer us on that point), we can use HB 1234 (as a counterexample!) to engage voters in a deeper conversation about the policies on which we ought to spend that money.
Now the superintendents aren't saying they'll campaign against teachers and try to block the referral. But it seems counterproductive that they would publicly criticize a petition drive against a law they generally agree is bad for the schools they run (a bothersome exception: a survey of SDSSA members found 60 out of 105 superintendents expressing support for the very bad idea of yanking the due process rights of continuing contract). SDEA announced its intention to refer HB 1234 on March 7. They hit the streets with petitions on March 19. SDSSA sent its letter to SDEA on March 21. Did SDSSA's board really think that SDEA would commit political suicide by firing up lots of volunteers and signers, then throwing their petitions in the trash?
Superintendents, don't worry. Teachers and voters can handle a ballot with multiple items on it. Referring HB 1234 to a public vote, engaging the public in a deep conversation about education policy, and stopping Governor Daugaard's bad ideas will serve our schools and our state well.