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Mitchell Superintendent Graves Flacking for Governor on HB 1234

Last updated on 2012.12.11

As far as I can tell, Mitchell superintendent Joe Graves remains the only semi-practicing educator to have consistently expressed public support for House Bill 1234, Governor Dennis Daugaard's education reform plan. He jumped into the press early with support for merit pay and ending "tenure" in a January 24 op-ed in the Mitchell Daily Republic, one day before Governor Daugaard's people officially filed the bill. Graves testified as a proponent at the education committee hearings on HB 1234 in both the House and the Senate.

Graves continues to beat the drum for the Governor's bad plan in the paper. He repeats his superintendents' association's line that teachers will confuse voters by referring HB 1234 to a public vote:

"I think it's a mistake to refer HB1234," he said, since there's also a voter referendum in the works to ask voters to approve a 1 percent sales tax for education and Medicaid funding.

The SDEA has opposed HB1234 as being divisive for state's teachers. The bill, adopted during the recent legislative session, phases out teacher tenure and sets up a bonus system to award top teachers, among other things.

The legislation would provide $15 million for additional compensation in high demand areas of science and math and provide incentives for teacher excellence in the classroom, Graves said.

"It's a mistake to confuse the voters," said Graves, who's worried both measures could fail, leaving schools with no additional funds [Ross Dolan, "Graves: School Leaders' Group Wants SDEA to Back off Efforts to Put Teacher Bill on Ballot," Mitchell Daily Republic, 2012.04.10].

I'm still waiting for Graves or another superintendent or anyone else to offer some serious arguments to counter my analysis that referring HB 1234 either has minimal impact or a positive impact on the chances of passing Initiated Measure 15, the ed/med sales tax. Let's consider the impact the presence of HB 1234 on the ballot on three main groups of voters:

  1. A bunch of voters already have their "No" pencil sharpened for anything that says "tax." HB 1234 won't swing their vote. Conservatives like Rep. Stace Nelson who are already engaged enough to understand that HB 1234 promises to waste money on bad programs and usurp local control won't be confused about the sales tax issue; they're probably already voting against it.
  2. A bunch of other voters already have their "Yes" pencil sharpened, determined to do anything they can to invest more money in education. HB 1234 won't swing their vote. 95% of those education advocates are already signing petitions and voting to protect schools from the predations of HB 1234.
  3. A bunch of voters in the middle are debating whether their desire to help schools do more outweighs their desire for a progressive tax structure. HB 1234 might move votes there. If folks see HB 1234 as good policy, they might realize we need more funding to pay for the salary incentives and scholarships. If they see HB 1234 as bad policy, they might support the sales tax as a way to fund better policies, or they might withhold the extra funding and demand that legislators demonstrate their ability to come up with better ideas before risking more tax dollars in Pierre's hands. The interaction of the two measures here is unpredictable.

Voter confusion is a weak appeal: we're going to have seven, maybe eight measures on this year's ballot. No one in the Legislature seemed to fret about "confusing" us with four Constitutional amendments. We had four ballot measures in 2010, seven in 2008, and eleven in 2006. I don't recall hearing nearly as much about "voter confusion" as about voter conservatism: if in doubt, vote it out.

I suspect that conservatism is what Graves is really worried about. People paying attention will vote the way they intend on IM 15 and on HB 1234. People not paying attention will read "increase state general sales and use taxes" and make the call based on their pocketbook. People not paying attention will then get to HB 1234, read the four-line bill title, wonder what the heck it is, and tilt 3-to-1 for the conservative position of, "I don't know what all that really means, so I'm voting against it." If there are voters who can be confused, they will not be confused by some interaction effect of these two measures appearing on the same ballot. They will be confused by the multiple policies laid out without detail in HB 1234's title, and they will vote against Joe Graves's favored policies independently of their pocketbook or coin-flip call on the sales tax measure.

Graves has flacked for bad gubernatorial decisions before. He supported Governor Rounds's decision to play a shell game with $26 million in stimulus funds designated for education. And it's interesting to note that Graves wants to be able to dismiss his teachers from their one-year contracts without any reason while he enjoys a three-year contract.

Whatever Graves's motivations, the superintendent is grasping for straws. Referring HB 1234 will not confuse voters. It may actually galvanize voters to come to the polls and at least protect education, if not support it with more finances. Instead of confusing voters with his own amateur (and I use that term with all of its negative connotation here) political punditry, Graves should stick with straightforward advocacy of the Governor's ideological education agenda.

Meanwhile, keep circulating those petitions, teachers and friends of education! And be ready to prove the superintendents wrong this fall, when we will do an outstanding job of explaining the impacts of both the sales tax and HB 1234 on public education.

Update 09:18 MDT: Dr. Graves made the above comments about HB 1234 at Monday's Mitchell school board meeting. So I'm wondering: can a public employer make statements on school grounds discouraging his employees from engaging in political activity? And on the flip side, could I as a teacher go to my school board's next meeting and place in the minutes my encouragement for my fellow employees to engage in specific political activity?


  1. Owen Reitzel 2012.04.15

    First of all I think Graves is bucking for a spot in GDD's administration.
    Second I think its sad that Graves believes the people of South Dakota are that dumb. That might be true to a point but I hope that most people would take the time to a least study both bills and treat them as seperate.
    I guess I missed what he said at the Mitchell School board meeting but I don't think it ethical.
    Maybe our friend and writer at the Daily Republic Tom Lawrence can ask Graves about this or maybe an editorial about this.

  2. Troy Jones 2012.04.15

    Owen, unless you have evidence his motives nefarious, this is calumny and an offense against the truth. Second, why do you think those who disagree with you are stupid? Is it appropriate for me to call your above statement stupid?

    FYI:. There are some pretty smart electoral Dems who think putting HB1234 on the ballot will bring the tax increase down. I am not going to explain their rationale even though I oppose the tax increase. I just hope they are right. :)

  3. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.04.15

    Calumny to suggest a superintendent is seeking a higher job? Hmmm....

    Troy, I'm pleased that you will acknowledge that "smart" and "Dem" are not mutually exclusive terms. But those smart Dems haven't said a word to me about this rationale. Why not? What is this HB 1234-kills-IM 15 rationale that everyone is keeping secret from me? It's got to be more than mere "confusion".

  4. Owen Reitzel 2012.04.15

    Troy I'm not the one calling anybody stupid. It's Graves that feels that South Dakotan's aren't smart enough to seperate the two.
    I disagree with you on the tax increase, but I don't think of you as stupid.
    Education and health providers are just taking matters into their own hands. If the legislature won't provide funding then they're hoping the people of South Dakota will.
    As far as Graves bucking for a spot in the GDD admistration, that's my opinion.
    As far as I know I can still state my opinion.

  5. LK 2012.04.15

    I think Troy is enjoying the chance to help set-up the scapegoating that will come in November.

    If i were setting odds, I'd put the over/under on the Initiated Measure 15 at 57% against.

    Voting on HB 1234 won't hurt that number, but teachers will take the blame for IM 15 failing.

  6. Troy Jones 2012.04.15


    I don't subscribe to the theory posited (here is the rationale: There is some people who want to do more for education but maybe not a 1% increase in the sales tax. HB 1234 gives these people an opportunity to do more and not have to choose between nothing and a tax increase leading to the tax failing and HB1234).

    I think the tax increase will fail and HB1234 will be upheld both on their merits.

    Owen, it is an "opinion" which you then use to denigrate his motive for supporting the bill (as opposed to allowing he sincerely thinks it is a good bill). Even if he were to someday work for the Governor, it proves nothing. If you were the Governor, wouldn't you more likely hire people who get your vision? And, if you really believed this is a good reform of education, wouldn't you want to work for a Governor with whom you agreed and is willing to take bold leadership to promote what you believe?

    Both sides too often attribute ill-motive to those they disagree with. For instance, I oppose Obamacare and you support it. Let's argue the merits and not dismiss the arguments made by asserting motive which you don't know.

  7. Owen Reitzel 2012.04.15

    Sure Troy. I'd like someone who believes with my vision, but I wouldn't want a "yes" man. As Governor I would appoint someone who knows something about lets say education but wouldn't be afraid to come me and say this is a bad bill. I'd take his opinion into account.
    What you call "bold leadership" is what I call someone who really doesn't know what he's talkng about and used advice from advisors that have no connection to education.
    When was the last time Graves was actually in the classroom teaching? And from what I see he's the only administrator totally behind the Governor. There might be others but they're not speaking up.
    I agree with your last paragraph. Let's argue the merits, but still be able to have what we feel is an educated opinion.

  8. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.04.15

    Troy, thank you for enunciating that rationale. But that can't be the supes' rationale. That rationale assumes that voters understand both measures and make a nicely rational choice to take the easier, cheaper route to assuage their educational consciences. Graves et al. are telling us that voters will be too confused for even that level of thoughtful analysis. Are the supes confused, or are they really setting up the scapegoating LK suggests?

  9. Charlie Johnson 2012.04.15

    Keep in mind, Troy, HB 1234 has no appropriation. Where will the money come from?

  10. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.04.15

    Charlie, Charlie, Charlie: are you suggesting that people who would vote for HB 1234 have an obligation to vote for the extra-penny sales tax in order to pay for the new policy they want to enact? What a fiscally responsible position to take!

  11. larry kurtz 2012.04.15

    Heads up, Sibby: @shawncable
    Funnel clouds are being reported along I-90 between Spencer and Mitchell. Brief tornado touchdowns are possible. #sdwx

  12. grudznick 2012.04.15

    Stop trying to increase my taxes just to give administrators more cushy parking spaces and pay to the bottom 20% performing teachers.

  13. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.04.15

    Those are not my intentions, Grudz. False dilemma: it is not a choice between low taxes and wasted increased taxes. Some of us can think of policies that would target new dollars toward real improvements... or maybe just reinstating good programs that we've taken away from our kids.

  14. Troy Jones 2012.04.15


    You really are hilarious. You are joking right. You really didn't say:

    1). If I disagree, they aren't educated.

    2). A person can only be valuable to the Governor if they agree with you.

    3). A person who agrees with the Governor is a "yes man."

    If I apply that line of thought to Obama,

    1). He must be a moron.

    2). His people are worse than worthless.

    3). Everyone around him is a user-yes man.

    You have to agree too I just sounded brilliant as I am using your logic.

    P.S. Your opening comment had one point:. Because Graves is touting the bill, he must be wanting a job. What job are you applying for with Obama. It can be the only reason one speaks well of the moron in chief.

  15. Michael Black 2012.04.15

    Any vote is more than 6 months away. I don't know about you, but I will wait until October to sift through the facts and rival opinions before casting my ballot in November. Lots of things may happen between now and then.

  16. Charlie Johnson 2012.04.15

    HB1234 is like a 72 Ford pinto with a dead battery and empty gas tank. Who would drive one, let alone admit owning one. Once HB1234 is on the ballot--who is going to carry the water in defending it? The statewide campaign--the advertising, the money, spokespeople? If they can't show up in Pierre-which they didn't-how will they show up in a general election? Remember it will be illegal for GDD and the bureaucrats to expend state resources in a general election.

  17. Anne 2012.04.15

    I can read this thread with a certain detachment and satisfaction. After my children spent a year in South Dakota Schools, my husband requested a transfer back to his home office in Minnesota so that my children could return to school there. At that time, my own job changed to the 4-day-a-week, comp-time work schedule so that I could split my time between being with my family in Minnesota and working in South Dakota. The motivation for this arrangement was just the kind of playground squabbling and bullying that some engage in on this thread. And also a school superintendent who was far more interested in cultivating a relationship with political power than he was interested in or equipped to deal with the factors that actually affect the education of children.

    The petty malice in the deliberate misconstrual of what some people said is indicative of the kind of regard for and thinking about education that sets the tone and the priorities for education at the state, and often local, level.

    This kind of atmosphere is what teachers have to battle to do their jobs. And those playground belligerents presume to be able to judge the performance of teachers, when they are the biggest hindrance to effective education.

  18. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.04.15

    Anne, was the move back to Minnesota just an escape fro one bad district to a better district, or do you find that belligerence and politicking endemic to South Dakota schools and somehow not to Minnesota schools? If the latter, how did those different cultures evolve?

  19. Anne 2012.04.15

    It was a matter of leaving a bad district for a better one at the behest of some very unhappy children. I have not noticed that attitude we encountered in South Dakota, however, prevailing in any neighboring districts in Minnesota. My husband, an executive, also found that attitude in his dealings for his company.

  20. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.04.15

    Fascinating... if this difference exists, what could have gone wrong in South Dakota culture to cause it? Did Minnesota get all the good Norwegians?

  21. Taunia 2012.04.15

    Work hard to get this ballot initiative on the ballot, then work even harder to get your voters informed. South Dakota is in the pre-clutches of serious extreme Republicanism and a lot of states would happily trade positions with you.

    Who would have guessed that public teachers and schools would be villified to this degree? I guess if we'd have been invited to the ALEC conventions years ago, we'd have known.

    Painful to watch this extreme Republican "State's Rights, By Gawd!' mantra. State legislatures seem to be public enemy number 1.

  22. Taunia 2012.04.15

    Also, where's the always vocal Mitchellite Mel Olson? Perhaps he can debate Graves. Petition signatures would runneth over.

  23. Anne 2012.04.16

    In discussing this with a number of people, including some professors of history and sociology and some ministers, they have suggested that the migration of the young and talented out of South Dakota was motivated out of search for supportive and sustaining communities, as well as personal ambitions. Those left behind felt resentment and defensiveness and a sense of cultural abandonment by those who left, according to the scholars and ministers. This came up in a humanities reading series I attended when I first came to South Dakota, when we discussed a kind of surly, provincial attitude that some communities had expressed about the humanities reading programs. I think it is a factor when I hear parents brag about how well their children are doing in other places and see that resentment among the people they talk to.

  24. Troy Jones 2012.04.16

    Charlie, that is a great point.

    SDEA will expend resources on both bills but who will do it on the other end.

    I guess SDEA better win too since they have no opponent.

  25. LK 2012.04.16


    Do you have inside knowledge that the Governor isn't going to be campaigning for his own bill? Has he disbanded the whip operation that passed HB 1234? Is there some poll that shows he no longer enjoys a 1 billion percent approval rating or whatever it was that he had during the legislative session?

    I'm fairly certain that one of the campaign talking points/whispering points is who are you going to trust, the Almighty Governor or those worthless pesky teachers?

  26. Charlie Johnson 2012.04.16

    There will be plenty of organized opposition to IM15 starting with the SD C of C. As to HB1234, other than GDD and several state bureacrats, who will "carry the water". I'm sure GDD can not use state funds to buy advertising supporting HB1234. As to my Ford Pinto analogy---who would want to own one? Who wants to "own" HB1234? A dead battery--so are the measures in HB1234. No gas in the tank?-Where is the funding for HB1234?

  27. Steve Sibson 2012.04.16

    I disagree with Graves on the issue, but he has a point. If the state has $15 million to bribe teachers into indoctrinating students with Obama's International-based Common Core Standards, $8.4 million more to train teachers on how to indoctrinate with Common Core Standards, and 10s of millions more to set up a testing system to make sure the Kool Aid is having the desired affect...then why do we need to raise taxes and give even more money to public education?

  28. Troy Jones 2012.04.16


    I have no inside information. I was making a joke. Maybe it isn't funny and it definitely wasn't clear.

    The joke was: SDEA runs two campaigns. SDEA loses both. They go to their members and say "You lost to who?" and answer "nobody." Ouch.

    Reminds me of a racquetball drill I used to do by myself. If I made three particular shots in a row, I got a point. If I didn't, I lost a point. Did it for a 5 minutes as a warmup. I lost alot to nobody (or lost to myself).

  29. Steve Sibson 2012.04.16

    Troy, if the SDGOp was reallu against an additional 1% sales tax, they would have fixed the state aid formula with the $100 million plus surplus funds instead of using it to implement Obama's educatin policies. Time for South Dakota to say to the feds...take the borrowed money back and pay down the debt that is being passed on to the very children the public education system are indoctrinating.

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