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Ed Notes: Save Groton Debate! Plus Sports ROI, Useless Majors, Cuts and Quality

Last updated on 2011.04.30

Another crowded tab bar, another call to clear the queue! Here's an education potpourri for your Friday:

Save Groton Debate! The Groton High School debate program faces the budget axe. Groton debater Michaela Oleson qualified for Nationals in Student Congress this year. Oleson is part of a fity-year tradition of great debate in Groton, which includes alumnae like Brookings teacher and debate coach Judy Kroll and Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin. Groton debate alumni Carson Larson and Ross Buntrock have set up an endowment fund to save the program. Contact Groton business manager Mike Weber to find out how you and your dollars can help.

Extracurriculars Yield 1:7 ROI: I've always wondered just how much money extracurricular activities make for schools. At the opt-out forum in Yankton Tuesday, school board member Chris Specht said Yankton spends $700,000 on extracurricular activities and recoups $100,000 in gate receipts. Some might say a dollar back for every seven spent is awful. Fortunately, we know the real value of activities like debate and theater is not the revenue we generate at contests but the lifelong learning and earning power students get from participating.

Cutting Sports Travel Cuts Revenue: In the same article, Specht also offers this unexpected counterargument to folks who want to cut extracurricular travel to save school money:

We would save $3,000 not making a trip to Rapid City.... But then Rapid City wouldn't come here to play, and we would lose $3,000 to $4,000 in gate receipts [Chris Specht, in Randy Dockendorf, "YSD Impacted by State, Feds," Yankton Press & Dakotan, 2011.04.27].

There are two sides to every argument... and there's always more than one column in a spreadsheet.

Horticulture and Agriculture Useless Majors: The most avidly blogging debate coach in South Dakota notes that two of the least promising, lowest paying college majors (according to The Daily Beast) are horticulture and agriculture. That's probably the feeling locals are getting from SDSU's budget cuts....

Marketing vs. Reality: South Dakota Board of Regents exec Jack Warner has a tough job. He has to fight for more resources for our public university system, but he also has to maintain a good marketing front. Thus, he has to say things like this:

Three years of budget hits have not diminished the quality of education that public university students receive in South Dakota, but the cuts can't continue, the director of the Board of Regents says.

Jack Warner told the Argus Leader editorial board Thursday that despite a reduction in state support of almost $28 million the past three fiscal years, "I haven't seen cuts deep enough to affect our fundamental quality" [Steve Young, "Regents Chief: More Cuts Would Mean Pain," that Sioux Falls paper, 2011.04.28].

I appreciate the need to keep telling prospective students that our universities are worth their tuition dollars. But "fundamental quality" is a dodging phrase. Let's just talk quality. When you reduce funding, staff, and available majors, you reduce the quality of a university system. You make talented students and faculty that much more likely to seek opportunities elsewhere (speaking of which, SDSU Ag-Bio Communications folks, UNL has two good openings!). The same is true of our K-12 schools. We all want to say good things about our South Dakota institutions, but we cannot look at an education system pummeled by budget cuts for the last three years and claim with a straight face that they have not suffered some decline in overall quality.

Update 14:36 CDT: Mr. Woodring, alas, thinks the erosion of our public university system is perfectly acceptable and that Dr. Warner should quit griping and get back to work.

Update 2011.04.30 07:14 CDT: Unfortuantely, Dr. Warner's effort to put a good face forward only facilitates the Republican propaganda machine that wants you to believe we can keep cutting public services without negative impacts.


  1. RGoeman 2011.04.29

    There's a morale factor at play also, Cory. It is no different than in the private sector. A pat on the back and a "nice job" every once in awhile feels great, but when someone else controls your professional paycheck and continues to send the message that you are not important, not relevant, not a priority...It wears on people and that affects the quality of job performance. To constantly work in fear of job security, no increase in salary even though inflation continues to eat at our spending power and reducing or combining programs, asking those people to do much more than they previously did without additional compensation seems unfair. I'm proud of those who stick it out, but Dennis Daugaard could have accomplished the same goal with less disruption using smaller reductions over two or three years, some use of taxpayer-provided reserves and increased tax monies coming from our economic recovery. We all make choices in leadership. We can be like Custer or the Lone Ranger, or we can gain concensus among our entire cavalry before moving forward with a plan.

  2. Douglas Tschetter 2011.04.29

    Who is the displaced plainsman?

  3. Wayne B. 2011.04.29

    "Fortunately, we know the real value of activities like debate and theater is not the revenue we generate at contests but the lifelong learning and earning power students get from participating."

    Well, let's not say we ~know~ something that we feel in our guts and heads to be true. I'd like to see a comparative study between those in debate/theatre & those who go without. Look at outcomes. Look at earning power. Control for SES of parent households. See if there's a correlation.

  4. caheidelberger Post author | 2011.04.29

    Oh, fine. I've never measured the earning power of you, Jeff, Josh, A.J., Clarissa, Angie, Toby, Tony, Dani, Michelle and Sven, Paul Slattery, Geoff Wetrosky, Jon Lauck, Varsha, Gretchen, and the rest of South Dakota's NFL alums. I choose to value the intelligence and problem-solving skills all of those individuals (including myself) gained in NFL activities over any monetary measure. Call me irrational. I'll still teach and fight for those values, despite the fact that we don't charge admission at our debate contests.

  5. Wayne B. 2011.04.29

    There's nothing irrational about the support. It's just that (as hopefully high-end critical thinkers) we ought to distinguish ourselves by looking for metrics by which we can compare against a base set of values. If we ultimately value creating successful adults through a k-12 education system, we need to define what we mean by success (income, quality of life, happiness?), and then craft our activities to promote those.

    Otherwise we've no better claim to the o-mighty extracurricular dollar than sports and music. We can just talk circles around the football folks... till they get tired of us and tackle us ;-)

  6. Charlie Johnson 2011.04.29

    On one hand it is good that Groton is trying to save the debate program Through an endowment. But why are we trying to privatize the funding for a legitimate educational program? Are we not just beginning the slippery slope toward private education altogether? I have no problem with private money when it comes to brick and mortar but ongoing important programs, well, that's a different story.

  7. Erin 2011.04.29

    Is the Groton debate program on the chopping block, or is this a preemptive effort? If it's being cut, I'd be curious to know what other Groton extracurriculars are getting the axe.

  8. Linda McIntyre 2011.04.30

    Destination Imagination is a great program. Madison had many teams at its inception. I think the school brought the programs, and I guess the gifted teacher ran the program, but the rest was entirely volunteer. I know because I was involved in it for years with my daughter. She gained immensely from this, has now coached and judged and in fact is on the state board. The point I'm making is that this is a program that could be essentially run as a volunteer program like it for the most part was at the beginning. The teams didn't get school (taxpayer) money for transportation, food, lodging, uniforms etc. Parents saw the value of the program and were willing to step up to the plate and volunteer time and a little money for the experience the kids received. Groton has had many great teams in Destination Imagination over the years,but just because the school is no longer providing funding is no reason to let the program die. There is just not the money available for much of the ancillary things that we looked for schools to provide for a long time. But that does not have to mean the end of the programs nor the benefits that kids get; it just means that parents will have to step up and assume some of the responsibility for the well-rounded individual instead of leaving it to the school system.

  9. Erin 2011.04.30

    Linda, yes, in theory, parents can step in and fill the staffing and financial needs of this one extracurricular activity. But what about the other activities being cut (all around the state, not just in Groton)? What about music and theatre? Debate and oral interp? This seems problematic, especially in smaller schools and towns in South Dakota. When the majority of families have two working parents, how can we possibly expect them to suddenly take over the volunteer running of all the extracurriculars? IF that would fit into their work schedules in the first place. That’s not even considering all the church, community, school activities and organizations in which parents already participate. Plus, some activities do require a certain amount of training/education. You can’t just pull any parent to direct the band, and we really cannot expect the majority of these activity directors and teachers to work for free.

  10. Erin 2011.04.30

    Another note—as someone who has selected scholarship recipients when I worked for a state university, I wonder how in the world we’re going to expect students to compete for scholarships and college admission when they have to list no or minimal extracurricular participation on their high school resumes.

  11. Linda McIntyre 2011.04.30

    Of course one parent can't be the volunteer behind every extracurricular. But I do not believe that parents are incapable of helping out with one extracurricular that their young person wants to participate in. Each parent has different interests and skills to contribute. There should be plenty of former athletes that could help coach for instance. And kids don't have to simply participate in school extracurriculars when filling out college or scholarship applications. There are plenty of community and church activities to be involved in, plus work experience that all count as much as school activities. There just is not the money available to do all that we have let schools accept responsibility for over the years. If it comes down to academics or extracurriculars, I choose academics.

  12. caheidelberger Post author | 2011.04.30

    But Linda, what about extracurriculars like debate and fine arts that directly reinforce and extend academics? I speak from experience: those activities call for some serious training and talent. I think of Yankton, where Leo Kallis coaches. He is a brilliant educator. I sicnerely believe there is no one else like him in Yankton. Or head up to Groton. I know coach Kristen Gonsoir. Eliminate school support for the debate program, ask parents to take on the responsibiloty, and they won't be able to replace the valuable work she does. Sometimes we get together and do things as a community through our public school system because it is the best way to achieve those things.

  13. Linda McIntyre 2011.04.30

    I agree that some extracurriculars cannot rely solely on volunteers, that they need some trained people in charge. Debate and band come to mind. And extracurriculars do reinforce academics, not arguing that. I am arguing that we have been too used to dipping into a well that no one ever thought would run dry of money; but it is for all levels of gov't, and we have to begin to develop out of the box, creative ideas to accomplish some of the responsibilities that we have been conditioned to let schools assume. Maybe we will have to get together and do things as a community through other than the school system and we might be surprised that it can work.

  14. caheidelberger Post author | 2011.04.30

    And Linda, I agree with you in principle. I think it's fine to look for ways to achieve things without government. And if those ways are better, we ought to do them.

    But I'm glad we agree that there are specific situations, specific activities and skills, that do require something more than volunteers.

    For the record, I would be happy to volunteer to help Madison re-establish its Policy and Lincoln-Douglas debate programs. However, I also need to eat and would need to at least be able to continue making money judging tournaments on the weekends.

  15. Donald Pay 2011.04.30

    Extracurricular activities are the best value for taxpayers' dollars you get in education. If you want to make a dumb cut in education, make it where you have the most engaged kids participating in a program that requires the highest order of intellectual skill and discipline.

    South Dakota has far too many school districts, but it takes some political guts (don't expect any from your elected "leaders") to force consolidation of districts. They would rather force the cuts onto kids than deal with a bunch of stupid, voting adults trying to protect turf.

  16. caheidelberger Post author | 2011.04.30

    Serious question for you, Donald: Would a serious statewide consolidation (say, consolidating districts by legislative district, so we'd have just 35, or consolidating by county for 66, with maybe two districts in the most populous counties) still provide the same level of opportunity for all students that we have in the current system?

  17. Leo Kallis 2011.05.01

    Thank you for the kind words, Cory. I want to remind everyone that Paul Harens was producing excellent debaters long before I got here.

    I'm certainly worried about the situation in Yankton, but I'm also worried about towns like Milbank where the ever curious Doug Tschetter has produced great teams. I'm not sure anyone will take over the debate and interp program there.

    I don't think it's just small towns or AA cities with one high school like Yankton, Huron, where Mitch does amazing work, or Brookings where Judy and Sally do wonderful things that I can only envy. I also worry about SF. How long will Tony or Travis want to hang around when they can have opportunities with better pay and fuller funding?

    I hope Groton gets the funding it needs to continue, but I worry that all of us will soon have to add fundraising to policy, LD, PF, humor, duo, drama, original oratory, and extemp

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