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K-12 Education Cuts: Teachers and Kids Get Whacked

Last updated on 2011.03.26

An eager reader from Vermillion sends me this odd artifact of an electronic age: a photo of a TV broadcast of a PowerPoint slide outlining the Vermillion School District's proposed budget cuts, courtesy of the atrocious state budget passed by Vermillion's state senator Eldon Nygaard and Governor Dennis Daugaard:

Vermillion School District, proposed K-12 budget cuts for AY 2012

And from a reader at the other end of my compass, front page of the latest Grant County Review, listing proposed cuts at the Milbank School District:

Milbank School District proposed K-12 cuts AY2012
(scanned from Grant County Review, Milbank, South Dakota, March 2011)

To his credit, Milbank's District 4 state senator Tim Begalka voted against the state budget that made consideration of these cuts necessary. Republican Senator Begalka saw options to cutting education... as did the otherwise nutty Rep. Brian C. Liss (R-13/Sioux Falls). (I may have to revise my rating of Liss from worst legislator to second-worst, behind my own state senator Russell Olson.)

I'll update these cuts on the Madville Times Projects:K-12 Education Cuts page.

Neither Vermillion nor Milbank is dealing with these cuts merely by cutting waste and inefficiency (though prom advisor? Yes, absolutely, gone, no problem). They are cutting opportunities for students. They are cutting jobs—8 FTE's in Vermillion, 7 in Milbank plus a lot of coaching positions. Every one of those jobs is one more person who can answer a question, one more potential mentor, one more caring adult who be there to help a kid. Even that custodian at Milbank—that's one more person who might be there when a kid needs to get a book from her locker when the building's locked, or needs a car jump-started in the parking lot after practice, or needs someone to break up a fight.

Caring adults are the best resources we can offer our kids in our schools. That's why we pay those adults the biggest chunk of our budget. The Olson-Nygaard-Daugaard-Don't-Guard-Education budget takes away those resources from our kids. And that, as I think Senator Begalka and even Rep. Liss recognized, is a darn shame.

MDL's Chuck Clement has sent out the traditional questionnaire to all school board candidates, so we five can write his news story for him. One of the questions asks what budget-balancing ideas the Madison Central School District should consider. If any of the other candidates tells you we can balance the budget just by getting rid of waste and efficiency, point them toward the above list of cuts. Then tell those candidates they're blowing smoke. 

Related: Michael Cooper, "States Pass Budget Pain to Cities," New York Times, 2011.03.23


  1. Bob Ellis 2011.03.25

    They'll get over it.

    My homeschooled son just got the results back from the standardized test he is required to take. We spent waaaaaaaaaaaay less than the $7,958 per pupil spent on public school students, and he finished in the high 90s-percentile in almost all areas, and tested as much as five grade equivalents higher than he actually is.

    Throwing more money at education isn't the answer. If it was, South Dakota would be near the bottom of academic performance instead of near the top, and D.C. schools would be #1 instead of #51. And homeschool children would perform the most poorlyl of all.

    No, we need a renewed emphasis on the basics instead of all the ancillary stuff that is of little or no benefit. We also need far more parental involvement; study after study has shown that if there is a magic bullet for academic performance, it is engaged parents.

    We have to stop handing off our children to government agencies and expecting them to do as good a job as a caring parent.

  2. caheidelberger Post author | 2011.03.25

    Good point on homeschooling, Bob. When every family can afford to have one parent give up $30K in income each year to stay home and raise children full-time, as parents were able back when strong labor unions made the middle class possible, I'll be happy to devolve those functions back to loving, stable, one-income families.

    In the mean time, we need to stop screwing South Dakota's (constitutionally mandated) K-12 system.

  3. Michael Black 2011.03.25

    Wrong Bob! The secret to success is not engaged parents, but engaged STUDENTS!

    Even deeper and more drastic cuts are on the way as the feds start to deal with their spending habits.

  4. John Hess 2011.03.25

    Kids are not self motivated. They need their parents to go over school work, encourage them, etc. Bob's mostly right. Heck, he may be entirely right.

  5. Michael Black 2011.03.25

    So Bob, how does one "graduate" from home school? I am very interested in the process.

  6. DVR 2011.03.25

    @John - I disagree with your statement that kids are not self-motivated. I attended public school in South Dakota (Brookings) and was surrounded by self-motivated students. We worked hard and achieved great success in school, athletics, speech, drama, music, and art. Our parents cared about our education, but we were motivated to succeed. My classmates and I graduated from college, and many have obtained graduate degrees.

    I don't doubt that some students lack self-motivation, but many have it. Those students succeed and we should not take away their opportunities.
    {CAH: Dan, Brookings has a great public school system. It turns out some of the brightest people I know. I even married one of them! :-)}

  7. slhart 2011.03.25

    If our elementary teachers could have one or two students to work with instead of 25-30, I can guarantee the test scores would look very different. Class size IS a key factor!

  8. John Hess 2011.03.25

    Kids learn motivation from somewhere is my point, and most of that should be from home. We expect too much of the educational system and some parents are very willing to give up their responsibilities. Too much has been pushed off on to teachers.

  9. DVR 2011.03.25

    @John - I agree that involved parents are incredibly important to a student's development. But, why should we punish those students' whose parents aren't involved? Shouldn't teachers try to help/assist/motivate those students? Should we take away extracurricular opportunities that may help students find their motivation/excitement?

  10. Erika Powell 2011.03.25

    Mike, you are incorrect. Engaged parents show their kids that they care about what they are doing.

  11. John Hess 2011.03.25

    Talk to teachers that have disruptive kids at the lower grades, and those that have taught for more have 20 years. They tell me they were once respected and backed by the parents, now the parents say not my kid, that's not my problem, it's your job, you deal with it. If we expect education to try and pick up the slack of poor parenting too much, the problem gets worse not better. The education of the good kids suffer and the next generation simply accepts the school systems should take over parental roles. A lot of our educational policies are a mess. No Child Left Behind our latest debacle. Kids learned in one room schoolhouses because it was the expectation, and we've lost that.

  12. Stan Gibilisco 2011.03.25

    Two thoughts ...

    (1) If I'm not mistaken, the Lead/Deadwood school district (where I live, and where I pay property tax, oh man, do I ever) does not accept any money from the state for education. If that's true, then the budget cuts will not affect us at all, and should not change our property taxes either. However, I could be wrong about this. If so, someone please tell me.

    (2) I use Facebook as a means to communicate with people who read my books (mostly about mathematics and electronics). As a result, a number of young Asian engineering students have "friended" me. I wonder: Why have so few (if any) American students done the same? Could some hidden nugget of golden revelation exist somewhere in this haystack of uncertainty?

  13. caheidelberger Post author | 2011.03.25

    Stan, I think you're right: Lead-Deadwood is all locally funded, thanks to higher property values, as I understand it. I think Hill City does the same. I'd be curious to hear what your school does with its budget this year.

    Interesting Facebook phenomenon... could it be American students already have lots of good teachers around them and thus don't need to reach out online? Or are those Asian kids more avidly seeking knowledge? Perhaps someday all kids will learn that way, from the kichen table, logging on to connect with ten different teachers in ten different countries.

  14. Stan Gibilisco 2011.03.25

    Well, if indeed our schools are 100-percent locally funded, then you should have little trouble understanding how we would not be eager to pay a higher, or new, tax at the state level for the purpose of education funding!

    That does not, however, mean that we hillbillies (or this hillbilly, at least) would necessarily favor cuts in state aid to education. I have mixed feelings about the Daugaard budget concept in general; the guy sure stands by his convictions, though, which cannot be said for all executive leaders at this point.

    As for the Asian students, I suspect they're more serious about getting ahead than their American counterparts. And, at the risk of appearing sexist, I have a hunch that the disparity between Asia and America is greater for boys than for girls.

    Some American engineers and physicsts have "friended" me, but they're pretty much all at the professional level, not students.

    Hmmm. Tongue-in-cheekily, may I entertain the fantasy that Asian college engineering students have knowledge in their fields comparable to American professionals? I do recall an exchange student from Vietnam who attended some of my classes in the 1970s. He took 50 credits in a single term, testing out of most of them, and he got all A's in his mathematics courses. His only B was in physics.

    When this kid from a war-ravaged little country in southeast Asia (this was the early '70s, remember) graduated high school, he had mathematics knowledge equivalent to a college senior in the United States.

    Now should we be terribly surprised if we live to see the day when Asia eclipses America as the world's economic power center?

  15. joelie hicks 2011.03.26

    The youngest of my 6 kids was homeschooled. During her HS years she took all her science and english at the public school, including an internet bio 3, she took some social studies there. She did all math and foreign language etc. from home. In her public school studies she only rec'd one 'B'. We were much tougher, we gave her more 'B's than that. When she applied to SDSU she combined her public school grades w/her home school transcript. No GED or anything. They aren't very experienced w/this sort of thing, but she was accepted. She hasn't let them down, she is a college jr and has still rec'd only one 'B'. She is planning for grad school. Another daughter worked 3/4 time as an LPN, studied for her RN (accomplished), delivered her 3rd child last November, and still managed to homeschool her 6 y/o son. He can read pretty well, do arithmetic doing a little carrying of numbers, Knows all 50 states, where they are and most of the capitals. Just letting you know that home schooling can be done even w/o a full time parent in the home, and home schooled kids can get a diploma from their home school and get into college.
    About Milbank's situation, I was on the school board there 2000-03. At that time there were two opt out attempts that failed. They deserved to fail, IMO. Since then there are new administrators that will have to clean up some problems. Have they chosen the right type of cuts? In Milbank, a teacher or administrator who falls in to the right demographic (working x years and being x age) which is the vast majority of them, a bonus which is nearly a 1 yr salary spread out over 3 years. This is on top of the state retirement rec'd as a retire/rehire plan. Those bonuses save no money because by the time one group of people are finishing their plan a new group is eligible. As I recall, one year there were about 10 teachers/administrators eligible, it cost the district a lot of money. Especially when it involved administrators salaries. It seems it was well over 100,000 dollars.
    The other problem was the building project. They wanted to put the middle school w/the high school. Not a bad plan at some point perhaps. But if they wanted to build a new middle school, that might have had to become a bond issue. So they decided to build a new 'media center', gut the old library and turn it into a middle school, skirting a possible bond issue, because the MS would be on 'old ground' and only the media center would be new. To accomplish this, they gutted the comfortable surplus in capital outlay, and from what I read in the minutes, they still must borrow from the general fund to keep capital outlay going. They pay back the GF when C.O. gets new funds. That means that the GF, already hurting because return on vestments is not as good as it was, had even less to invest.
    There are people who will disagree with me, but I think the retirement bonus and the new MS have done quite a bit to decimate the budget at Milbank and the cut from the state has really hurt them.
    What to do? The present administration had no part in these decisions, but they are stuck with the mess.
    With fuel prices going up, and the reduction of a business that provided some of the most lucrative jobs for women in the area, as well as men. I am not sure if taxpayers would be willing to make up the difference if they were asked to do so. I think the sports boosters and music boosters might do some fund raising to make up some of the cuts in those depts. I am not convinced that the cuts listed are truly the best ones or just ones that will make the public scream. Those bonuses stick in my mind. Are they gone? Until they are gone, and that difference going in to kids programs, I am not convinced that they are putting students first. We have had/have some wonderful teachers there. They do a great job, I am not saying they don't 'deserve' a bonus on top of salary and state retirement. But the district really cannot afford it.

  16. Nonnie 2011.03.26

    Sounds a lot like one of the NEA higher ups said, that the unions were about power, not about putting students first. And that really showed up during the WI protests. And it sounds like the policies still tend to put money first and student needs second, but they scream about hurting the kids as that is more likely to garner sympathy.

  17. Charlie Johnson 2011.03.26

    The Wisconsin protests were about maintaining collective bargaining rights. Which any group of workers should be able to maintain. Yes, this was about power----a weak, scared governor who in his own insecurity wants to act like a bully and take away their economic and political rights. Wisconsin teachers do care about students. I know seveal relatives and friends who are the best of the bunch-they are teachers and care about kids. Stripping away their bargaining rights should not be the way they are shown appreciation.

  18. Charlie Johnson 2011.03.26

    Perhaps my frustration is showing through here. The budget cuts on the front line for all school districts is real and will have major ramifications for everyone involved. Issues of home schooling, wyoming taxes, labor unions only serve to skirt the issue here. The debate needs to be in two parts---(1)What is the level of pay that can and should be sought to maintain statewide a high level of engaged, energetic, caring, committed, and professional educator work force. I would submit that we are no where near that in today's world of educator pay. With better pay come the flexibility and responsibility of the community/school board to demand/expect excellence. (2)What is the funding mechanism to deliver this "product" to our youth? Our property tax system is centuries old and has no relevevance to how education should be funded. For capital outlay and bond issues, I see the connection. For general ed funding, what makes a property owner anymore or less responsible for how youth are educated than if he drives GM or Ford. What we all derived from an education is the ability to function in a very social, mobile, and information filled world and the ability to earn an income to support oneself and family. That is why a gross income levy should be the avenue to support any school funding formula/need while at the same time rid property taxes of that responsibility. Education leads on to a lifetime of success. When success is achieved or perhaps results obtained, then success/results need to pay back into the system for future generations.

  19. joelie hicks 2011.03.26

    Right now the major funding of education is through property taxes. So, if you own land, or bricks and mortar, in other words, a farm or business, you are the one who does the majority of education funding. Once upon a time that made sense. But Eastern SD has grown in businesses, professionals and industry. Their employees have stable jobs w/ good benefits, but only through their homes do they fund education, not their their salaries. Unless of course they do a lot of gambling, speeding and smoking.
    So something has to change. I think that we owe our educators the ability to live well in the community in which they teach. But we also have to remember that the public that pays them must be able to live also.
    Once I had a theory that a teacher should be paid a salary out of a percentage of the per student formula. Say 70%.They could decide how many students they were willing to teach and had to pay for the materials, desks, room rent and custodian in their room. The first year or two they would lose money, as most professionals do when setting up their place. But after that they would be able to somewhat control their salary. Do they want 10 students? 20? And if parents and students had a choice of educator, it could quickly weed out those that are not good in their profession.

  20. Supersweet 2011.03.27

    $4,486 is the new per pupil funding amount set by the legislature. If a school district wants to collect taxes to spend more they have to opt out no matter how much of that can be funded with local proprty taxes, even if they can pay it all.

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