The Executive Board of the South Dakota Legislature wants to restore a life-insurance benefit for legislators. According to Mr. Mercer, the Legislature extended this benefit to its members after Rep. Gary Bender of Menno died in a summer farming accident. They cut that benefit from the budget last session but now want to bring it back. Price tag: $10,000 to provide a death benefit of $200,000.
If the Legislature can find the cash to restore that generous workplace perk, will it get serious and restore the funding that put 214 teachers out of work in the last fiscal year and reduced teacher salaries across the state?
Public schools shed 214 teaching jobs and 14 administrators last school year in the wake of a dramatic reduction in state aid.
Budget data recently released by the South Dakota Department of Education show the workforce fallout from a 6.6 percent cut in the state’s per-student funding formula.
Schools reduced not only the number of educators they employ, but also their average salary. The average teacher in 2011-12 made $38,807 — down $446, or 1.1 percent, from the previous year — probably solidifying the state’s last-place position in teacher pay [Josh Verges, "S.D. Schools Cut 214 Teachers, Reduced Salaries Last Year," that Sioux Falls paper, 2012.12.19].
102 schools dropped 258.1 full-time equivalents. 50 schools added 44.1 FTEs.
Reducing staff means increasing the number of students each remaining teacher has to work with. That reduces the amount of time each remaining teacher has to plan and to spend in individual time with each student. Brookings teachers will tell you that reducing planning and tutoring time makes it harder for the remaining teachers to serve the kids as well as they did before. So will Blake Dahlberg of the Newell School District:
Blake Dahlberg, who was the K-8 principal last year, is now superintendent and K-12 principal. He also serves as the counselor after that person was laid off.
“I’ve tried to make it very clear to (the school board) that this is only a temporary solution. It’ll either be a temporary solution or I’ll be here only temporarily,” he said.
Dahlberg said the funding cut wasn’t all bad, because it forced them to get more efficient. One science class had only a few students last year, and because no one signed up for physics, that teacher had an extra free period. They also reduced their seven bus routes to four without leaving too many students out.
But with fewer people running the school, some important duties don’t get the attention they need.
“There are some things that are starting to show a little strain, like curriculum development and teacher evaluation,” Dahlberg said [Verges, 2012.12.19].
You're just not going to get as a good a level of counseling from a person who is also handling superintendent duties for the entire district as you will from a full-time counselor. Dahlb erg also shows that Governor Daugaard's budget cuts make it harder to do exactly the work that the Governor wants us doing more off, curriculum development (to re-engineer our teaching to fit the Common Core Standards he's pushing) and teacher evaluation (which he wants us to revamp to fit the for-profit Charlotte Danielson framework).
Last year, Governor Daugaard's budget took 214 adults out of our schools. That's 214 fewer adults that our kids can turn to at school. That's 214 fewer adults who can take a spare moment to talk to kids who are feeling left out or overwhelmed... and that's 9,000 some remaining adults who are so busy picking up the slack of the lost workers that they don't have as many spare moments for those kids in need, either.
On the off chance that Rep. Stace Nelson may fall in a well and break his neck, I don't mind putting a few tax dollars back in the budget to ensure his wife and kids get some money to help see them through a terrible loss (though it might make more sense to fill that old well!). But I would rather the Legislature look beyond insuring itself against a rare misfortune and focus on undoing the clear and daily damage its budget cuts have done to K-12 education.