Dist. 25 candidates speak to education issues
October 23. 2012 7:00AM
With five candidates present, the Dell Rapids Elementary School commons served as venue for a District 25 forum Oct. 15, asking those running for state office to voice their stances on topics in education.
Event organizer superintendent Summer Schultz introduced the five candidates, including Scott Ecklund (R-Brandon), Jon Hansen (R-Dell Rapids) and Bill Laird (D-Sioux Falls) vying for two House spots, as well as Dan Ahlers (D-Dell Rapids) and Tim Rave (R-Baltic) vying for Senate.
Dell Rapids Middle School teacher Jason Fersdahl moderated the forum, which drew more than 50 attendees. The candidates began with introductory remarks.
Ecklund described himself as a “common-sense conservative” who is “pro-education.”
“I’m embarrassed by the salary of our teachers,” he said, adding that he’s also for small government and is pro-life. “I welcome input from other educators in that regard.”
Hansen said he is running because of a set of equally held convictions, including being for small, open government and low taxes and being “very pro-life.”
“These ideals should be espoused and well-represented in our government,” he said.
Laird touted investing more money in education, including increasing teacher pay to heighten retention of education-major graduates.
“I see things happening in the state government now that are moving in things in the wrong direction,” he said.
Ahlers said that there is more to be done in education and that he is running to ensure quality education and opportunities for families. “I believe in the potential of South Dakota, just as I believe in the potential of my community,” he said.
Rave closed the remarks saying that his reasons for running include serving and working for people. “I will tell you cold, hard facts,” he said. “I don’t know any other way to do it but be honest.”
Sufficiency of S.D. education funding
Fersdahl began with the first of two focus questions for the speakers, asking whether they felt the state sufficiently funds K-12 education.
Rave said the state is in a budget surplus and is in strong fiscal condition, so the key is making sure the money is spent appropriately and wisely. “The point is, how much money are you people willing to send to Pierre? The people will really decide,” he said.
Ahlers said that prioritizing, rather than “picking winners or losers,” is the best way to fund education, which he said is not being done effectively or sufficiently in South Dakota.
“We have to decide what’s going to be important,” he said. “It’s not fair to tell schools there’s no money when you put $32 million into an oil pipeline.”
Hansen agreed with Rave that the budget surplus puts the state in a good position, adding that raising taxes would be “regressive.”
“I certainly support doing more, as long as it correlates with student achievement,” he said. Hansen continued saying he did not support a raise in sales tax when the state already disproportionately burdens the poor with food and clothing taxes.
Laird cited the reserves making up about 11 percent of the state’s budget, adding that pipeline funds should’ve gone to education.
“They’re holding on to money they really don’t need to,” Laird said of the reserves. He also questioned the necessity of offering about a $30 million incentive for a pipeline when bordering states did not.
Ecklund said that one-time money and bonuses are hard to plan around, but reform is necessary. “I’m embarrassed that we’re 50th in teacher pay,” he said. “I think it needs to be a much more stable program. I don’t think that one-time shots are really appropriate.”
House Bill 1234
The moderator asked the candidates their stance on House Bill 1234, which was put on the ballot as Referred Law 16 after referendum to reverse the governor’s signing it into law.
Laird said he does not support the house bill, asserting that merit pay does not work and that the bill neglects many areas of study.
“It places unfair emphasis on math and sciences,” he said. “It places them in competition with each other. They’re working for a prize as opposed to the goal of educating a whole student.”
Ecklund said that although “pay for performance” is a system that increasingly is used, he’s wary about a bill being forced on people who don’t support it.
“I think it’s a bill that was well-intentioned,” he said. “I think what I’m hearing is that the teachers don’t support it.” His solution would be for educators and administrators to pull together to find an alternate plan if Referred Law 16 passes.
Hansen, an incumbent who voted for HB1234, said that advancing salaries should increase retention of teachers migrating to neighboring states with higher pay.
“This will do more to retain our great teachers and attract teachers into our state,” he said. The representative said he doubts the bill would create animosity or competition among teachers.
Ahlers said he was suspicious of districts being “excluded from the process” until late in the game. “This (opinion-gathering) is a process that should’ve taken place when it was an idea,” he said. “I don’t like what it does for education. It’s a great example of poor leadership. If you vote for this, you’re condoning that behavior.”
Rave rounded out the discussion saying that HB1234 has good parts and parts that need work. He said that he was integral in passing the Critical Teaching Needs Scholarship Program, which offers a maximum of 100 full scholarships for juniors and seniors in education programs if they agree to teach in a “critical need area” in South Dakota for five years.
“I’m very proud of that section,” he said.