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Mitchell Supt. Still Mad at Teachers, Wrong on Daugaard Education Reforms

Last updated on 2015.10.30

I've ridden Joe Graves's case all year over his flacking for Governor Daugaard's really bad ideas for education. The Mitchell superintendent's sour grapes on last month's election results give me plenty of reason to keep riding.

Graves manages to make a little sense on the logic and values that rejected Governor Daugaard's Referred Law 16 (née House Bill 1234):

...those who opposed 1234 spent an enormous amount of money to block $15 million in annual spending, all of which would have gone into the pockets of South Dakota teachers. If educators themselves felt it was more important how such dollars would be divvyed up among teachers than that they would be provided to teachers, it can be argued that teacher pay is not as pathetic as is often argued. (This is not to say that South Dakota teachers are not behind the rest of the country or that we do not need to enhance that pay. We do. It is simply a recognition that even among education groups, apparently, other considerations are more important than the goal of increased teacher compensation.) [Joe Graves, "Election Results Bad for Education," Mitchell Daily Republic, 2012.12.11]

The sense Graves makes here is a bit hard to hear through the sneer he's practicing for contract negotiations next spring: You teachers didn't want $15 million from Governor Daugaard, so you must not want a raise from me, either! Set the snark aside, and you hear Graves stating the obvious: if higher wages outweighed everything else in teachers' life choices, there wouldn't be a single teacher left in South Dakota. Teachers put the good of their students first. If a pay scheme promises to harm those students (and HB 1234 would have), good teachers will reject it. Fortunately, so will 67% of South Dakotans.

From there on, Graves falls into full denial:

For educational advocates — though I certainly admit I am in the minority on this view — the results of the election were an unmitigated disaster. To summarize, education groups spent, by some accounts, over a million dollars to block giving teachers $15 million a year and spent so much time and energy on 1234 that it left the much more important issue of the sales tax initiative neglected both in terms of campaign funds and attention, spelling its demise. Put another way, education groups spent over a million to block $15 million in funding for teachers and effectively ignored the opportunity to secure $180 million for schools annually [Graves, 2012.12.11].

Graves clings to the notion his fellow supers tried to float back in the spring, that referring HB 1234 would confuse voters and hurt the chances of passing Initiated Law 15, the sales tax measure. Graves and the Governor over whom he fawns may want you to believe that voters were confused on November 6, but there is no evidence that votes against the education reform bill increased the votes against the sales tax.

Besides, I'm willing to argue that it was more important to defeat HB 1234 than to pass the sales tax: flip the votes, and the extra $90 million for education (Graves forgets that the extra-penny sales tax would have been split evenly between K-12 and Medicaid) would have been dumped into a system made toxic by HB 1234.

Graves then excuses Governor Daugaard from trying to make any real improvements in education, because, Graves argues, teachers are meanies:

...given what I at least perceived as the nastiness of the campaign against 1234 and the Governor’s Office, I can’t imagine what incentive he or his people now have for working on reform initiatives for education, especially given the fact that most education groups provided input on 1234, received the changes they asked for in that legislation, and then turned around and opposed the law both during the last legislative session and in the election [Graves, 2012.12.11].

That's strange: I can imagine the incentive. It's called public service. It's called taking your lumps, coming back from a hard debate and defeat, and still trying to do the right thing. It's the same incentive that will make Superintendent Graves's teachers come back to their Mitchell classrooms tomorrow morning, even after they read their boss's nastiness toward them in the paper, and keep trying to do their jobs better. It's the same incentive that keeps thousands of teachers across South Dakota coming back to work each day, despite the constant ingratitude of the lowest teaching wages in the nation.

Graves concludes with this incredible exercise in Newspeak:

In some sense, the educational community should be pleasantly surprised to receive the benignity expressed in the recent budget address. Hopefully, we can follow that up with some small, positive changes to education and its funding in South Dakota (one-time monies, categorical programming to assist students such as a funding factor for ESL students, etc.) during the coming legislative session. If we can, though, it will be in large part because this governor is continuing in his willingness to not allow the poor behavior of others to interfere with serving the best interests of students and, ultimately, to put solving the problems of the state of South Dakota over more political interests [Graves, 2012.12.11].

We should be surprised that Governor Daugaard has benignly chosen to follow the basic requirements of the K-12 funding formula? We should give Governor Daugaard the credit for any and all future improvements in education because he's above the "poor behavior" Graves imputes to those who disagree with him? What rot! We teachers were the ones offering evidence-based policy alternatives, while the Governor and his war-whooping advisors were preaching ideological agenda utterly divorced from research.

Superintendent Graves runs a decent school system in Mitchell. But he is gravely wrong about the merits of Referred Law 16 and the values of the teachers who make his schools great.


  1. Jana 2012.12.11

    Cory, it's rare that I disagree with you, but I must take exception to your statement, "while the Governor and his war-whooping advisors were preaching ideological agenda utterly divorced from research."

    The war-whooping advisors had plenty of research from ALEC that showed the plan would destroy teachers unions, eliminate any semblance of due process for teacher firings and provide lucrative business for teacher evaluation software companies. I think they also researched that this would be an important first step to privatize public education...which is pretty much their raison d'être. (See my public education 9th grade French class wasn't wasted!)

    So, there was research involved...just not academic research centered on improving education.

  2. grudznick 2012.12.11

    Obviously you don't want to work in Mitchell. There are only so many towns in South Dakota before people (not I, sir) will start telling you to go to Iowa. Or California.

    PS: whats with these giant dollars I read are going for French cheese factories coming to South Dakota? French cheese?

  3. Rorschach 2012.12.12

    Nobody smooches the governor's patootie more than Joe Graves. What a tool.

  4. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.12.12

    Grudz, are you suggesting that employment may justly hinge on silencing political speech?

  5. lrads1 2012.12.12

    Wow, too bad Mr. Graves doesn’t use the political advisors so obviously at his disposal. Or does he? Do you suppose he ran this past the Gov’s people—or did they write it? What a way to tear apart a school and community. That’s one school board that has its work cut out for them.

  6. Les 2012.12.12

    That might be a better question for Daniel Willard, Cory.

  7. Douglas Wiken 2012.12.12

    Looks like teachers should be allowed to evaluate superintendents and principals. Graves suggest that some of them need a lot more education and improvement.

  8. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.12.13

    Les, if Dan loses his job at Wells Fargo, I'll have some questions.

    Douglas, teacher evaluations of administrators would have to be grounded in a culture of respect for teachers so we would know that our assessments of our leadership would be taken seriously and not poo-poo'ed the way Graves poo-poos our electoral will. I'd prefer replacing superintendents and administrators with teacher leadership committees. Fire every administrator, hire one new teacher for each administrator fired, and thus free up teachers to serve half-days on leadership committees to direct their own schools and districts.

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