Remember how some Madison parents whined in February about Madison High School administrators' ordering their kids cars towed for not following parking lot rules? At tomorrow night's meeting, the Madison Central School Board will consider their transportation committee's response to those parents: drop dead. As Chuck Clement reports, the board will consider the transportation committee's recommendation that the district eliminate its student vehicle use rules from the district policy manual. This revision reduced redundancy, as existing policy already says that the student handbook will list traffic rules and parking control.

*Grammar Note: Two sics in one line—uff da! Compounding their poor writing, the committee writes this new sentence in the passive voice, committing the classic admin-speak trick of not naming the agent responsible for an unpleasant action. The committee also unnecessarily changes the first sentence of the parking policy from active to passive voice, then reinforces a subsequent wordy passive construction, saying staff and students "must have their vehicle registered" instead of the more straightforward "must register their vehicles...." Sharon Knowlton needs to bring Doc Miller back to proofread!)

But the kicker is the amendment of Policy JHFD to read that "All vehicles in violation with [sic] District policies may be towed without notice at owners [sic] expense."*

Rather than creating more due process to ensure that the school doesn't unduly oppress our precious little ones or their parents' checkbooks, this policy revision reinforces the high school principal's power to tow improperly parked cars from the school parking lot.

Remember, parents: the school can't tow your kids' bicycles. The high school has no policy on riding or parking bikes.

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Esteemed reader and commenter Troy Jones insists that the South Dakota Supreme Court's affirmation last week of the lower court's rejection of the school funding lawsuit represents not just a victory for the state but a boomerang-Waterloo for the whiny school districts that dared drag the state to court:

Overall, I think the school boards lost more than they even imagined [Troy Jones, comment, 2011.09.03].

As I read this again ruling after [Saturday] conversation with a lawyer, the school boards have gone so backwards (read the factors the court mentions that might have more impact on education) as the courts are as likely to demand replacement of board members, administration or teachers as they are to force more taxes [Troy Jones, comment, 2011.09.05].

The Court showed last week it's darned unlikely to order the Legislature to raise taxes, so the gentlest reading I can give to Mr. Jones's hopeful equation is that we are just as unlikely to see a judicial override of local school board elections or hiring decisions.

But I don't think Mr. Jones is being so subtle. I hear hopefulness, perhaps jubilation in Mr. Jones's responses. The suing schools were hoping for judicial activism; now Mr. Jones, who I suspect generally dislikes judicial activism, appears to be rooting for the schools to get a big dollop of bitter judicial activism plopped on top of the judicially-certified generous slice of pie served up by the Legislature. It's not enough for Mr. Jones that the schools lost their lawsuit and appeal; now he wants the courts to punish the schools for their petulance.

I've read the full ruling, as well as Chief Justice Gilbertson's concurring opinion (starting on page 41/paragraph 72 of the ruling). I find none of the grounds Mr. Jones finds to believe that the Court's ruling represents a setback for the schools. At worst, the schools are where they were before the suit. Arguably, they have a little stronger legal ground for future challenges of public policy.

Mr. Jones and his Saturday lawyer friend suggest the court identifies other factors more significant than funding that might open local districts to greater legal challenge. However, the major confounding factors cited in Justice Meierhenry's main opinion are socioeconomic:

One expert found no correlation betweeen a district's total expenditures and its test scores, even after adjusting for socioeconomic circumstances affecting students such as poverty, English language learner status, and ethnicity [Davis et al. v. State of South Dakota, Department of Education, et al., 2011 SD 51, ¶63, filed 2011.08.31].

Nowhere does Justice Meierhenry direct future litigants to turn their lawsuit fire on local school boards and administrators. Chief Justice Gilbertson sort of goes there in his concurrence, nitpicking at various administrative decisions made by the plaintiffs' six focus districts (Faith, Doland, Florence, Bon Homme, Willow Lake, and Rapid City). But he concludes that those schools are all offering constitutionally adequate education. Even if Chief Justice Gilbertson is hinting that he would like to order Willow Lake to max out its levy or consolidate the superintendent's secretary with the business manager, the main ruling's finding that funding doesn't correlate with academic results takes away the justification for doing so. The Court's reasoning gives it no more ground for meddling in local administrative decisions than for meddling in the Legislature's rushed budget deliberations.

If this ruling at all changes where schools stand in their fight for more funding from the Legislature, it puts them in a slightly better position by affirming all children's right to a free, adequate, and quality public education (are you paying attention, Charlii Gilson?). Unfortunately, the Court makes proving that a school isn't receiving the resources necessary to secure that right nigh impossible. Given the Court's acceptance of Faith as a model of constitutionally sufficient educational resources, with its condemned 1919 school building and demoralized kids running between crowded modular classrooms in winter, triggering court intervention in school funding and operations will probably require a district to actually run out of money to pay teachers and the electric company. But this ruling at least affirms that school districts have that foothold in claiming they are entitled to some basic level of funding.

Mr. Jones would like the schools to just be quiet and do their jobs. I get the feeling that Mr. Jones would like to see the schools punished for their effort to use the courts to overrule the Legislature's stingy funding of K-12 education. Our Supreme Court's ruling in Davis v. South Dakota does not lay the grounds for such punishment.

9 comments

Discussion of renovating the high school was not explicitly on the agenda for the Madison Central School Board's first meeting of AY2012, but it came up. During the appointment of the standing committees, superintendent Vince Schaefer said he wants the building and capital outlay committees to meet before the next regular board meeting in August to talk about how to fix up the high school.

Superintendent Schaefer is eyeing the possibility of putting out bids for construction at the beginning of 2012. That relatively soon start date suggests that Schaefer may be thinking of some small-scale upgrades that could be done within the current capital outlay budget, without a public vote. That would be a much more practical approach than trying to refight a campaign for the luxury gym that voters defeated last winter.

Also making an appearance not anticipated on the agenda was the man who drew up that boondoggle gym, architect Jeff Nelson of Sioux Falls. News reports of the meeting do not indicate whether he mentioned any of the renovation suggestions he has received since the March 28 public meeting on the topic. He did tell the board that the economy is picking up (Obama rules! Four more years!) and contractors are getting busier. He also says we can expect contractors to factor in a 4% increase in their bids from year to year... which alongside with the education funding cuts that Senator Russell Olson celebrates will naturally behoove us to be all the more frugal and practical in our building plan.

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The results are in... and I am not! On the school board, that is. My "concession speech" (complete with vote tables, courtesy of KJAM!) is available on my campaign website. Short form: thanks for the 448 votes!

One correspondent e-mailed asking about the results. "Popping corks yet?" he asked. Alas, no... but just like last time, I won't be crying in any beer. I plan to sleep quite soundly tonight... maybe even an extra half-hour! Then tomorrow morning, more blogging! Until then, your local punditry on the election results is welcome here in the comment section. See you at breakfast!

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It's election day in Madison! If you haven't decided yet, neighbors, I've posted five reasons you should cast one of your school board votes for me on my campaign website. Read that list. Watch the forum videos the way you'd watch a job interview, and you'll see I'm 100% ready for this job. Hire me. Vote for me.

That said, you and I still have a second vote to use. Whom to choose for the Madison Central School Board? Nathan Nash, Corey Gunderson, Jennie Thompson, or Shawn Miller? All four of the other school board candidates are decent parents, workers, and citizens. How to choose?

If we continue the job interview paradigm, we first strike Nathan Nash. At last week's forum, he confessed a lack of knowledge on two consecutive questions about the most obvious and pressing issues facing the school, the budget and the building project. Socratic wisdom can be a virtue, but not in a job interview. Nash sounded the least ready for the job.

Next off my list: Corey Gunderson. His exhortation that we get past the gym seemed disingenuous: how can we not talk about the gym when it is the one great indispensable part of the building plan he wants to run by the voters again? Gunderson also gives me pause when he urges us to vote for him because serving on the school board would be a chance for him to spread his wings. I want a candidate focused on talking about major issues affecting the entire district, not on his own personal growth and/or resume-padding.

Jennie Thompson shows a lack of consistency on policy. She advocates sticking with the luxury gym plan as well, raising the alarmist spectre of our children dying in a fiery art room catastrophe if we don't have a 2500-seat gym while refusing to seriously consider cheaper alternative construction plans. Yet she hesitates to support the payday shift scheme to avoid cuts in FY2012 programs because she is worried we might face further funding cuts next year. I asked Jennie whether those cuts would also justify scaling back our building plans and waiting on that new gym she wants... and my question has gone unanswered for five days.

I want to give Thompson credit for being the only other candidate to establish any Web presence. Unfortunately, her Facebook campaign page doesn't tell us much about her policy positions or specific solutions for the school district's budget and building troubles. She does, however, tell us that one of her interests is shopping... not exactly a passion that speaks to the fiscal conservatism imposed on us by Pierre.

That leaves us with Shawn Miller. Back in February, Miller was the only other candidate to announce his candidacy with a press release discussing specific policy issues. (Again, compare Jennie Thompson who gave us a nice press release on her family and background but nothing on policy.) He was the only other candidate I heard on KJAM and in the public forum last week really questioning the school board.

While Nash, Gunderson, and Thompson would likely plug themselves right into the status quo, Miller offers the best hope of bringing alternative ideas to the school board and using straight talk to restore public trust. That's why Miller gets my vote. That's why he should get yours.

Related: LK is also taking his local election very seriously. Local government matters, folks! Go vote!

3 comments

Whoo-hoo! 23 hours until the polls open in Madison for our school board election! What are voters thinking about the five candidates? Have their preferences changed since last month? Let's find out!

Last week I posted a poll asking "Who gets your vote for Madison Central School Board (pick 2)?" I polled the same question back at the beginning of March. The results from both polls (the second of which just closed this morning):

March% March# April% April#
Jennie Thompson 57% 70 47% 60
Cory Allen Heidelberger 53% 65 55% 71
Corey Gunderson 29% 35 26% 33
Shawn Miller 25% 30 37% 47
Nathan Nash 11% 13 5% 7
Total Votes 122 Total Votes 128

With slightly larger turnout for this second poll (more interest as election day approaches---that's a relief!), Jennie Thompson and I still hold the top two places, but we've switched position, with my taking and doubling her March lead (and that's without my voting for myself, honest!). Extrapolating from my past performance in my own polls, I still believe a first-place finish in my own poll means a third-place finish in the real polls.

But could I be wrong? I've stated in previous polls that Madville Times polls likely undercount the older, non-Webby voters like my neighbor Ron Barthel. My internal polling (tee hee!) indicates I'm trending with the over-65 crowd. And I am (still somewhat to my amazement) the oldest candidate on the ballot. With four people to split the "Anybody but Heidelberger!" vote, the powers that be could be in for some heartburn tomorrow night.

My optimism could be rosying my glasses, so the more significant results could be the changes among the other candidates. With all candidates now having their shot at the newspaper front page and a live audience, the only candidate who gained was Shawn Miller. Thompson dropped ten percentage points; Gunderson dropped three; nash dropped six. Miller bounced up twelve points. What public statements distinguish those four candidates? Thompson, Gunderson, and Nash all preached in favor of running the failed new gym/renovation plan again. Miller advocated cutting that plan down significantly and talked about needs versus wants.

As usual, the margin of error on any Madville Times poll is about this size of Neal and Linda McIntyre's property tax bill, so don't bet money on what you read here! Nonetheless, I welcome your armchair punditry as we head into tomorrow's school board election.

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Here's the last portion of Tuesday's Madison Central school board candidates' forum, in which we make our final pitches.

Nathan Nash says he'll listen, confesses he doesn't know much about the board, and makes an appeal to Jesus:

Jennie Thompson says she wants to be a leader (which never strikes me as a distinguishing reason to vote for someone). She wants to be on the board to "serve our kids and be a productive member of society, I guess."

Corey Gunderson speaks of serving the kids, then says serving on the board "is a great opportunity for me to spread my wings... and better myself and my family." (Tell me again why I should cast my vote to help one person spread his or her wings?)

Cory Allen Heidelberger (for those of you who don't know me) says "I'm running first and foremost because I want to start a conversation." I also wave my arms a lot:

Shawn Miller says he's "for everything we want to do, just not for the price. That's everybody's biggest problem." Miller shows a little Liss-style Sinophobia as he emphasizes the need to set priorities:

See the forum in its entirety on Madville Times YouTube! Watch, learn, comment, and then on Tuesday, April 12, get out and vote!

1 comment

Ron Barthel doggedly advocates a bigger MHS gym. He has done research and consulted contractors to support his argument that we could cut the construction price from $6 million to $3 million by simply expanding the existing middle school gym instead of building a whole new facility. Barthel has been bringing this idea to the school board for years. He's won praise for it from our man Hunter. It's exactly the kind of alternative the school architect told Barthel he was hoping to hear more of after the failure of the original plan... which leaves me puzzled as to why I saw Madison High School coaches sniggering under their breath at him when he presented the idea again at the public meeting two weeks ago.

Ron Barthel brought the idea up again at Tuesday night's candidates' forum. Members of the audience (many of them school staff and board members; and is that activities director Bud Postma walking out during Ron's question?) seemed bored to hear from Barthel again... but you know what? If you don't want to hear from Ron, you'd better come loaded with questions of your own!

The order:

  1. [1:35] Shawn Miller agrees we need something different to address problems. He suggests we could have passed the February bond issue if we had brought the price down from $17 million to $11 million. (I think such dollar figures are entirely arbitrary. There is no magic dollar figure that will make or break the next bond issue; a building plan will win or lose based on priorities.) Miller says the failed building plan spent too much on arts and home ec and perhaps not enough on core courses facilities.
  2. [3:40] Nathan Nash says he'll defer to the majority and the architects on this issue.
  3. [6:05] Jennie Thompson says she appreciates Barthel's idea, but then spends her time at the mic rejecting it. She embraces the line that it's the school's obligation to promote economic development with a new gym.
  4. [7:00] Corey Gunderson agrees with Thompson. He says he's open to looking at alternate plans, but he says he doesn't agree with spending another $30,000 to have the architect come up with a new plan (which makes it kind of hard to seriously consider alternative plans, don't you think?). Like Thompson, Gunderson says he "appreciates your question," which appears to be code for "Forget it."
  5. [8:00] I tell Ron I really am open to his suggestion. If it meets basic needs, saves money, and wins votes, go for it! I then agree with a comment Gunderson made on an earlier question about wanting to get past all this talk about the gym... not because I want to avoid a difficult topic, but because I recognize that the board's determination to shoehorn a luxury gym into the high school renovation plan distracts us from talking about real academic improvements:

Sharon Knowlton the principal said that we've got 67% of the kids taking P.E. classes. I'm gonna ask why don't we have 67% of the kids taking pre-calc, or business statistics, or AP Lit or AP Comp or whatever would be suitable to help them with their careers? I appreciate the value of exercise... but I think as a school we might need to reprioritize [Cory Allen Heidelberger, Madison Central school board candidates' forum 2011.04.05].

By the way, board member Steve Nelson, sitting far in the back of the room, was looking at me with an exceptionally large smile on his face throughout my response to this question and the others. I assume that means he agrees with me!

See the forum in its entirety on Madville Times YouTube! Watch, learn, comment, and then on Tuesday, April 12, get out and vote!

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