…Burdette Shows Research Chops!
Yesterday’s candidate forum here in Aberdeen brought three of the four school board candidates together to speak to the voters (all three of us in the audience, and whoever switches on local access cable).
Challenger Amy J. Scepaniak couldn’t make it, but challenger Sherrie Gray did, as did incumbents Linda Burdette and Bradley W. Olson. I am pleased to report that we Aberdonians have three good choices here. Olson has served on the school board for 15 years; prior to that, he had five years of experience as a city councilman and two years as mayor in Yankton. Burdette served four terms on the board, then took a break before returning to the board. Gray has not held elected office, but she taught for 40 years, mostly second grade here in Aberdeen, before retiring just a couple years. Gray also noted that her mom taught at Simmons Elementary and her dad principaled (my word, not hers) at Adams and Howard Hedger. All three candidates clearly have experience and a passion for education.
All three candidates are also absolutely clear on the fact that low teacher pay makes it hard to recruit and retain good teachers and that the Legislature makes it hard to raise teacher pay. All three candidates say arts should get the same emphasis and recognition as sports. All three say buying the former Coventry call center to turn it into a new elementary is a good idea.
As a bonus for my arch-conservative friends, given a strangely worded question about whether kids would be able to compete in the national job market without the Common Core standards, all three candidates said that Aberdeen schools can educate kids just as well with or without Common Core.
Burdette stood out as my favorite candidate for three reasons. Burdette has a spectacular alto voice. She opened her remarks by saying she’s running because she has “a passion for democracy,” which sounded an awful lot like what I said in my opening remarks during my monologue in the city council portion of the show.
Best of all, Burdette is packing data. A nursing professor, she cited real research to back many of the statements she made at the mic. On teacher pay, she said South Dakota schools manage to pay just 76% of the regional average. She then debunked the “lower cost of living” excuse our legislators give by pointing out that the Bureau of Labor Statistics says South Dakota pays its non-farm workers 88% or the average regional wage. If we can find 88% for workers across the board, why can’t we find 88% for teachers?
Burdette then used research to knock a question about term limits out of the studio. Had I been posed a term limits question, I’d have just taken the route Olson did, saying the elections achieve the same goal as term limits. But Burdette surprised me by citing two studies—she said Center for Public Education and Goodman, but darn it! speeches don’t have hyperlinks!—that suggest term limits may undermine effective school performance. Burdette said the Center for Public Education found that a majority of the “effective schools” it studied have board members with over ten years of experience, which translates into healthy organizational stability. Burdette said that Goodman found that effective schools tend to have long-serving board members and superintendents, plus regular strategic planning retreats for board members. In other words, good school governance (like good legislating, Lee?) doesn’t just happen; it takes planning and institutional memory.
Gray followed Burdette research-backed answer with nothing but feeling and slogans. Gray just feels term limits are good. We need new people and new ideas. Change is good. I had nice conversations with all candidates before the show, and I recognize all three are good people who would bring good skills to the next three years on the school board. But on the term-limits question, from a pure debate perspective, Gray offered no reason to reject the research Burdette offered: term limits are inimical to a healthy school board.
Aberdeen school district voters will pick two of the four candidates on June 2.