Blue Ribbon Brainstorming Boxes Out Common Core, Conservatives, and Cuts

The cosmos is off kilter when the most instructive and interesting reportage on the Rapid City meeting of Blue Ribbon Task Force on Teachers and Students (BluRTFTS) comes from right wingnut Bob Ellis. But there it is, 1,875 words telling us more about the Governor’s effort to delay action on South Dakota’s K-12 teacher shortage and perennially abysmal teacher pay than any of the mainstream media.

BluRTFTS hosted meetings with Black Hills teachers, businesspeople, and the general public on Wednesday, the day after 19.5% of Rapid City voters killed an opt-out tax increase to fund their schools. The Governor’s office has asked the media to restrain itself in reporting citizen comments at these meetings, so maybe that’s why KOTA-TV tells us nothing of the ideas proposed at Wednesday’s meeting. KOTA does report that we can follow the “progress” of BluRTFTS online, but we can’t really, not yet, since I see no report of either Wednesday’s Rapid City meeting or Tuesday’s Chamberlain meeting on the Blue Ribbon website.

The Rapid City Journal did better, reporting Rochelle Schultz’s specific concerns about funding STEM education for girls:

“I also want to come up with solutions to take some of the burden off of individuals who are paying higher property taxes,” said Schultz, who wanted to attend the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology in 1995, but ended up going to Minnesota for her education after feeling a lack of support for women in the science and engineering field.

“The support for girls taking science and math courses is growing, though,” Schultz added. “But you have to show up (to these meetings) to make a difference” [Emily Niebrugge, “Community Members Suggest Potential Solutions for K-12 Funding,” Rapid City Journal, 2015.06.04].

Niebrugge summarizes the educator and business meetings’ input as concerns and suggestions about “teacher salaries and benefits, classroom support, transparency, holding leadership accountable and corporate support for funding classrooms.” (Corporate support for classrooms should be a concern, not a suggestion: my classroom will not be brought to you by Pepsico or TransCanada.) My commenter Ray Tysdal, who was at Wednesday’s meeting, heard other suggestions:

…tax increases such as 3-month increase in summer sales tax to target tourist, income tax , tax on billboards, more community involvement, more emphasis on art and music especially in grade school (No art in elementary schools in Rapid City, now). But there was nothing new” [Ray Tysdal, comment, Dakota Free Press, 2015.06.04].

No art in elementary?! Now that’s the sign of an education system gone terribly wrong!

Niebrugge also mentions that BluRTFTS got my warning and boxed out folks who showed up to beat the Common Core horse.

That Common Core snub provoked Bob Ellis to provide the most detailed summary and critique of Wednesday’s BluRTFTS meeting. Ellis gives us some of his crazy stuff—the panel is a Leftist plot using the Delphi technique to promote socialist groupthink, yadda yadda—but he also details how the Blue Ribbon meetings manage the conversation at these public meetings:

The way the Delphi technique took place at the meeting  last night was that the people gathered at the round tables in the room were given a predetermined “question” to address, were instructed to throw out ideas, put them on yellow sticky notes, then decide at each table which of those ideas were the “best.” After about 15 minutes were allowed for addressing this “question,” each table was allowed to read one if its “best” ideas. Then each table picked its best three sticky notes and took them to a big board on the wall. Then the group moved on to the next question.

Instructions to those in attendance included: Be fully present at the meeting, make room for everybody’s voice, and listen to understand. Those in attendance were asked to address three questions:

  1. What possibilities are there for meaningfully funding K-12 education for our kids and our communities?
  2. When you think about funding schools in your local community, what is important to you?
  3. What ideas or new approaches might make those priorities more possible for schools in your community?

It was made clear at the beginning of the meeting that things like Common Core–which will cost the state millions to implement for dubious results–would not be discussed at all in the meeting [Bob Ellis, “South Dakota Task Farce on Education,” American Clarion, 2015.06.04].

I understand the anti-Common Core crusaders’ disappointment at not being able to take the mic and command the room with their call to arms against Mongolian Soviet education standards. But I’m disappointed at their apparent lack of creativity. I can think of plenty of ways to work Common Core into the three questions framing Wednesday’s discussion:

  1. We can meaningfully fund K-12 education by ending Common Core and other centrally imposed standards and tests and diverting the savings to teacher pay (and art supplies for elementary kids!).
  2. It is important that our local school spend less time testing kids and more time teaching kids (and doing art!).
  3. We can make these priorities possible by ditching Common Core and the Smarter Balanced tests trusting our teachers to decide curriculum and assess student performance (and help kids make art!).

Ellis notes that some conservative legislators who attended Wednesday’s meeting, including three who urged defeat of the Rapid City opt-out Monday, were told they were unwelcome at the meeting and were expected to “keep their mouths shut.” I can understand how such a directive might arise—a meeting designed to gain input from the public should be dominated by elected officials, who get enough exclusive floor time during Session. However, in Wednesday’s small-group setting, I suspect regular citizens could keep individual legislators from monopolizing the conversation and pose them some tough questions, while the legislators themselves could provide some enlightening information to promote better solutions.

Ellis cites an unnamed “experienced legislator” who writes on Facebook that BluRTFTS is a “sham” designed to promote the Governor’s as-yet-unstated agenda. Ellis doesn’t put a name to this statement or the legislator-muzzling allegation… but then that’s a fundamental flaw of the brainstorming format of the meeting as well. The meeting format, which commenter Tysdal says was professionally done but gimmicky, involves individuals in groups writing down ideas, picking their groups’ top ideas, and tacking them to a wall. There’s no personal accountability for statements or proposals, as there will be in the committee hearings and floor debates when legislators amend and vote on whatever legislation the task force births.

Ellis complains that Wednesday’s attendees (mostly liberal fanatics and members of the education establishment, he insinuates) talked mostly about raising taxes and not cuts:

I don’t recall any mention of cutting wasteful spending, cutting programs that don’t deal directly with educating students on real knowledge, getting by with less than the latest in computers and other equipment, and there was relatively little discussion of consolidation.

…Cutting overhead would be a great way to save money and get more money into the pockets of teachers–and that includes the education bureaucracy itself. But of course, our “leaders” aren’t interested in cutting that, because they might be cutting their own jobs, and the jobs of some of their good campaign contributors [Ellis, 2015.06.04].

As usual, Ellis is mostly wrong on policy—twenty years of Janklow-Rounds-Daugaard austerity have starved our schools to the point where there’s little fat left to burn, including in administration. He recommends cuts because he is part of the conservative clique who want to destroy public education so his homeschoolers and rich private academicians can inherit the earth. But at least Ellis details the focus and format of the Blue Ribbon meetings so we can be ready for the East River events June 16–23.

48 Responses to Blue Ribbon Brainstorming Boxes Out Common Core, Conservatives, and Cuts

  1. I am so sad that “Art” is seen as as a frill or luxury item. Art is a skill you use to to do many things, like design a house, a car, a part for a motor, a better computer program. Art is creating the new. I make a living using art every day. My kids go to public school but we have begun to seriously “home school” art and music. I can even say, should not have to, art is good for the economy.

  2. John, I am blown away that Rapid City has taken art away from the elementary kids. How can kids not spend a portion of each day making things with crayons and glue? As you say, practicing creativity is vital.

  3. mike from iowa

    Making things with crayons and glue is now the sole prerogative of the wingnut party in Pierre.

  4. Nick Nemec

    It seems to me that art class helps foster creative thinking and new ways to look at problems.

  5. SuperSweet

    It’s easy for Ellis or others to say “cuts.” This is another diversionary tactic like school consolidation. For 35 years I saw people getting elected to school boards who campaigned on “accountability, reduce taxes, hold the line on spending, etc, etc.” They never figured out how to fulfill their campaign promises. Some left after their first term, or sooner in several cases. Some stayed on and became champions for those we served, the students.

  6. larry kurtz

    How are 66 county seats and 6 4-year regental universities either conservative or sustainable?

  7. …and that problem-solving, Nick, is supposed to be a big part of the curriculum standards the state tells us standards are about.

    Larry, the point here about school consolidation is what SuperSweet reminded us under another post Tuesday, we consolidated schools big-time in the 1960s, and we got no grand savings. Our rank in teacher pay actually dropped through the 1970s and 1980s to the rock bottom we have enjoyed for 30 years. Consolidation may have some political merits, but it doesn’t appear to solve budget problems. SuperSweet brands it as one more distraction for which we must not fall during the BluRTFTS discussions.

  8. larry kurtz

    When have i said anything about school consolidations? Payrolls for counties are obscene in an era when most business can be done online and DSU is a joke. If districts want to pay more they should lobby a conservative legislature to make 35 counties out of 66.

  9. Oh, I thought you were commenting on the topic of this post. Silly me.

  10. larry kurtz

    You’ve already effectively ridiculed the task force, Cory and we all know nothing will happen unless there is money to fix problems create opportunities for school districts.

  11. Larry, has there ever really been a question on IF SD has money to fix its education opportunity gap? The only question seem to be if elected officials are willing to take it from the pockets of those who have the requisite wealth to pay for those opportunities (and whose pockets they are willing to or not willing to reach into).

  12. Donald Pay

    Thanks for keeping us updated on this. Ray Tisdale’s earlier posts were great. The format of the meetings is not meant to generate factual information. Apparently that comes later, after they’ve come up with “ideas.” Kind of a bass ackwards way of approaching an issue, but wqe’ll see. It seems the process was more to find “leaders” and ways to sell whatever it is they want to sell, eventually, with this process.

    Just to answer Ellis/Cory: Common Core costs little, if any, money. Common Core are standards. Aligning the curriculum to Common Core standards can take place over time, as occurs with every curriculum. Thus, they should not cost that much money over and above what any new curriculum would cost. People should know that curriculum changes occur about every 7-10 years anyway, whether Common Core aligned or not. It would probably cost more money to have curriculum not aligned with Common Core.

    The standardized tests are another matter. They do cost money, but, again, that’s true for the aligned test, called Smarter Balanced, or any other non-aligned test. If you’re going to cut anything, cut the standardized testing, or at least limit it, so art and other areas are not squeezed out.

    Consolidation would save some money. It wouldn’t be a huge money saver unless you went to something like the solid waste district model, where you have around 15-20 districts. That, by the way, would be opposed by conservatives. It is politically impossible, so it isn’t going to happen. West River is pretty much consolidated anyway. There could be a few more West River consolidations, but the money saved West River isn’t worth the political problems. So East River would take the brunt of the consolidation.

    The problem in earlier consolidations was that the money saved was taken from education, not plowed back in. That is why districts now won’t do it voluntarily. They don’t trust the state, and for good reason.

  13. Donald is right: reports from folks like Ray are very useful. The remaining four public sessions are in Sioux Falls, Yankton, Watertown, and Aberdeen. I’m pretty sure I can cover Aberdeen; can we get observers for the other three?

  14. Ah, Larry ties county and college consolidation to more revenue for schools! Now we’re connecting!

    So will county and college consolidation save any more money than the 1960s school consolidation did?

  15. I plan on being at the Sioux Falls one for teachers/public. I will report the general atmosphere of the meetings.

  16. While STEM is the popular catch phrase used by people worried about churning out math based workers only, it can be counteracted with STEAM (Science, technology, engineering, arts, and math). Remember a stem can only hold up a fairly small object, but steam has the ability to power the entire country!

  17. larry kurtz

    Ann Tornberg is speaking on redistricting: why not start there to reduce the number of counties?

  18. Donald Pay

    Here’s an idea from China that seems to fit right in with Republican thinking:

  19. Brett Schlekeway

    After the previous six years of either cuts or such small increases from the state as to not even really cover the cost of inflation what possible cuts could be left to make for school districts. Cuts to administration will not make a significant difference in salaries. What non-educational programs do schools have to have to cut?
    We need to face the fact that state has two problems to help increase teacher pay. One is revenue. We need more money coming in. The second problem is the political will to actually do something about the issue.
    I am always optimistic that this will change but it seems that every legislative session is just more disappointment. Maybe this is finally a year for change.

  20. SuperSweet

    There is one advantage to consolidation: broader curriculum offerings for students that comes with a larger student body. That should be the focus of discussion about consolidation. Art might be one. Music might be another when a school has enough students to have the proper instrumentation in a band. But of course it takes teachers to provide the instruction, and it is hard to do find teachers in both art and music.

  21. SuperSweet

    Brett, I hope you are right. I gave up after 34 years in SD and moved to Minnesota.

  22. Deb Geelsdottir

    SS, it took me 50 years to give up and move to MN.

  23. STEAM!!

  24. happy camper

    Super Sweet could you share your comparison of the two states now that you’ve been there for what, 3 or 4 years.

  25. SuperSweet

    I worked in SD schools for 34 years and MN schools for seven years. In MN Education is valued more from the governor on down to the parents and results in students who also see more value in education. In SD I didn’t get the feeling that educators were valued and appreciated like they are in MN.

    Economics has a lot to do with it. The MN economy is more diversified. There are more connections internationally in MN with many companies doing business multi-nationally resulting in the importance of the Chineese language, as an example. A whole bunch of Fortune 500 companies doesn’t hurt either.

    SD’s ag based economy makes it difficult to fund public services of all kinds. However don’t forget that SD has more bank holdings than any state in the nation, or did the last I checked. Maybe that should be tapped into somehow.

    As per another thread, MN doesn’t allow really small schools to exist. And I think that is for both economies of scale and being able to offer a broader curriculum. The state has been rather aggressive in this which supports my belief that education holds higher value in MN.

  26. barry freed

    Art is valuable for learning language and problem solving. Einstein was a mathematician whose work can be performed by anybody; he was notable because he was a natural creative. STEM without Art is unlikely to cultivate future Einsteins.
    Kindergarteners can produce realistic Fine Art. They can, and will, draw accurate pieces when asked, then for their own amusement go back to story telling with big, fluffy clouds and family portraits. Art reveals dyslexia very early, is an aid to thematic learning with other classes yielding greater retention of material by making it visual, and most importantly, it teaches us failure is not the end of the World. It takes resolve and humility to risk and fail in front of room full of people, but that public failure provides many teachable moments about getting back on the horse.
    Unfortunately, our Universities teach things like egg carton Craft/Art to Elementary Teachers and the RCPS think that is enough for K-5. As they underestimate elementary students’ abilities, they cheat them… and us.

  27. MJL: Yeah! I look forward to your report!

  28. Interesting that Minnesota has pushed for larger schools. What’s the state’s minimum size for schools?

    Also interesting to consider that consolidation may be justified for academic reasons rather than funding reasons. If BluRTFTS is focused on funding, maybe these meetings aren’t the place to discuss consolidation, but should we include consolidation in whatever education package may come forth from the task force as part of an overall reform effort to give kids more learning opportunities?

    SuperSweet says “SD’s ag based economy makes it difficult to fund public services of all kinds.” Why is that? Does ag produce less tax revenue per worker or per dollar of GDP?

  29. Fred Deutsch


    I view the primary function of the task force as developing competitive marketplace salaries for South Dakota educators. Though I collaborate with legislators in other states about state education systems, I don’t have the background like you do to compare perceived value between states. In addition to competitive marketplace teacher salaries, can you share your thoughts on other ways South Dakota can show our educators they are values and appreciated?

  30. SuperSweet

    1) It starts at the top – the governor and legislature. They need to take the lead and make education a priority. Take up education funding at the beginning of the session, not the end. As the teachers say “give us what’s right, not what’s left.” We need the governor and legislators that will represent the needs of education and not just tell the voters what they want to hear but educate the voters on the need and importance of education.

    2) Pay for performance programs can work and can make teachers feel valued. We implemented one here when Republican Governor Pawlenty established the Quality Compensation (QComp) program back in about 2004. This year’s legislature gave the program more money this session. See Allen Odden’s “Paying Teachers for What They Know and Do.” This program really puts the focus on achievement and rewards all teachers when goals are met, not just individual teachers. Competitive pay for performance programs don’t work but cooperative ones can. Our teachers here in exurbia now struggle to meet goals because achievement is so high it is hard to improve. It’s like trying to improve a 9.9 second 100 meter dash. But they are motivated every year trying to find new ways to improve. Performance pay is not all about raising achievement, either. (See Odden) Our teachers are highly valued when they go before the school board for the end of year report.

    (BTW Gov Dayton held up the whole show this year and wouldn’t sign the education bill because it didn’t include universal pre-school. That and other issues will be taken up in a special session soon. Looks like he values education and knows where to put the money to close the achievement gap. People interested in education feel valued.)

    2) Get pro-education candidates elected to the legislature. Parents can work on this.

    3) Parents backing teachers and administrators when little Sammy has difficulty. I say Sammy because little Johnny (that would be me) never caused any problems. That goes a long way to making educators feel valued.

    4) Get educated when the need for an opt out comes up and quit bashing education in the process. Educators are devalued many times in the the opt out election process.

    5) Their has been a lot of lip service in SD about the value of education and teachers and educators now see it for what it is. It is time to come through. $3 trillion in bank holdings in SD?

    6) Valuing education is a cultural thing, in my mind. One doesn’t change the culture overnight. I hope the Blue Ribbon Task Force is a serious effort to make education more of a priority and if something comes out of it that there is a legislature in place with the will to follow through.

    Thanks Fred for asking the question. I will continue to contemplate on it.

  31. larry kurtz

    South Dakota is last in treatment of women and women make up the bulk of the teachers in the state:


  32. Fred Deutsch

    Thank you SuperSweet.

  33. Not having art and music in classrooms is like going back to the days of East Germany with a skyline of dull, uniform and sterile Soviet style apartment buildings and everyone is driving those piece of crap, unreliable and polluting Trabants,28804,1658545_1658533_1658030,00.html

    That is depressing! Kids really need exposure to creative outlets for future overall health, future career opportunities, greater appreciation of their surroundings, culture and history and a more wholesome approach to problem solving.

  34. larry kurtz

    Appointing Republicans to brainstorm education is like teaching hogs to plant gardens.

  35. SuperSweet’s discussion of performance pay makes me nervous, but at least it’s not a call for the destructive competitive merit pay of 2012’s HB 1234. But before we talk about any sort of performance-based bonuses, we need to find the revenue to get every teacher’s base pay up to levels that properly compensate teachers for the work they are already doing (weeks of work that South Dakota has been getting for free) and that compete with surrounding states.

    SuperSweet does a good job of laying out changes in mindset that need to at least accompany, if not precurse, any policy changes. The Rapid City opt-out rejection, the re-election of governors and legislators who neglect K-12 funding, and the anti-teacher rhetoric that too often surfaces in public discussions of education may instill pessimism about the prospect for finding the political will to make real, non-punitive funding changes. #3 on SuperSweet’s list is a big deal that has no political solution: we need to recognize that it’s not families vs. schools; teachers and principals are on the same team as parents in seeking what’s best for kids. When we see Sammy behaving in self-destructive or other-destructive ways, we all need to work together to correct that behavior.

    Do South Dakotans respect teachers enough to give them a raise? If they do, then SuperSweet’s #2 shouldn’t be hard for us to work on in 2016.

    #5 is the big-ticket item to bring to the Blue Ribbon discussions. $2.83 trillion in bank assets, says GOED as of March 2015, the most in the nation. 0.0035% of that amount would put $100 million more in our budget, enough to raise every teacher’s pay $10,000 and buy them some Christmas hams. Meaningful funding? Yeah, I think we’re sitting on that right now.

  36. SuperSweet

    I stand corrected. Ag is an important financial base in SD, but not the biggest. That would be banking.

    Gov Janklow kicked it off by offering to take off usery rates in exchange for a guaranteed 400 jobs by Citi. Today they employ more than 2000, plus the jobs TCF, Wells, and others have brought in. And DSU was transformed to supply the kind of computer trained employees needed. Great move by the last good political leader the state has had in quite awhile.

  37. Looks like the jury is still out on the effects of the Q-Comp-Program.
    But I’d like to thank Super Sweet for showing that this is a complicated subject. Too many people I’ve talked to many people who say merit pay is the answer when in reality it’s much more complicated then that.

  38. SuperSweet

    I can say Q Comp is working in our school since we implemented it in 2006. State-wide data doesn’t reflect the whole story. We were a high performing school when we started so our gains have been small and some years there have not been gains in achievement, but there are other measures. It got our staff involved in professional learning communities, inservice targeted to teachers needs, peer coaching and peer observation. The latter two have often been resisted but teachers but now they embrace having another teacher observe them and offering feedback. Observing teachers report that they are the ones that gain the most from the observation.

    Since it’s inception some have thought the program wouldn’t last. We have said that if it goes away we would like to continue most of the elements somehow.

    I assisted several other schools in their QComp applications that were approved by the state only to have teachers vote it down after it was approved. Our teachers could earn about $3500 more under the program if all goals were met. I think the state and school district get a good return on that investment. But CAH is right, SD needs to get its regular salaries up and Allen Odden, who I cited earlier agrees.

  39. Deb Geelsdottir

    Here, on a vivid, colored coded map, followed by a chart, the SD Republicans’ petty parsimonious treatment of teachers is available for the entire nation to see. How embarrassing. Except the Koch Bros state government doesn’t have the basic decency to be embarrassed.

  40. Janklow as our last real leader—I just watched an odd little film called City of Ember. “The Builders” designed an underground habitat to keep a small community alive for 200 years to ride out some great catastrophe that would wipe out the surface. 200 years later, that underground city is falling apart. The knowledge and vision to fix and improve things has faded. The people have just coasted along on the machinery put in motion by The Builders, and the Mayor (Bill Murray!) is fattening himself on secret hoarded supplies.

    SuperSweet’s comment makes me think Janklow is one of The Builders, and our subsequent leaders are all Mayor Bill Murray.

  41. Let’s hope we can kick the Blue Ribbon panel in the side, provoke a K-12 funding revolution, and get to the point where we can invite Allen Odden to help us through the next step by 2020.

    But practically, even if we can reach consensus on solving the teacher pay problem now, we may work for a decade or two of simply winning back top teaching talent with competitive teacher pay. It may take that long to convince graduates and ex-pats that we’re really serious, that we’re going to get to 34th place in teacher pay and not sink back.

    And to do that, we’re going to have to elect Democratic governors for a generation.

  42. Who are these Kotch brothers and how can they control the universe so thoroughly when nobody knows what they do or where they live? They sound like boogeymen to me.

  43. Mr. Grudznick, I am afraid you will have to ask Tehran John, our senior (mouth puke) statesman and his rookie sidekicks, EB-5 Mike and sugar britches for the email addresses and account numbers for these Kochs you speak of. I might also add a few of our junta leaders here in South Dakota as well starting with Daugaard and moving down the food chain. I wonder how much moolah these killers of democracy have put into the virtual banking system we have here? Hope that helps to clarify your question.

  44. Actually, Mr. Jerry, you have me even more confused.

  45. SuperSweet

    There is a problem, in my mind, that I have stated previously on this blog regarding how the income tax on banks is distributed. A portion goes to the schools in the county where the bank is located. Why? If SD had a personal income tax the proceeds certainly wouldn’t go the school district in which they were collected.

    If sales taxes followed a similar pattern the sales taxes collected at the Empire Mall would stay in Sioux Falls or Minnehaha County.

  46. Maybe Ms. SuperSweet has a good idea. Lock all taxes into the county in which they were collected. Even the state sales tax. Imagine the outcome in Perkins county.

  47. That sales tax lock would fail to reflect the fact that all those regular visitors from Chester, Madison, Salem, and Beresford, not to mention all the statewide visitors for state tournaments, keep the Empire Mall humming.

    On bank franchise tax distribution: the state takes 95% of BFT from credit card banks and 26 2/3% of BFT from all other banks (SDCL 10-43-76). The counties then divvy up their shares to each subdivision (county, school districts, munis, etc.) in the same proportion as personal property taxes… although if I’m reading SDCL 10-43-77 correctly, the proportions are calculated from taxes in the mid-1970s.

    With 95% of credit-bard BFT going to the state, it would thus appear that Citibank isn’t over-favoring Sioux Falls as much as Wells Fargo might be.

    This conversation makes me think the Blue Ribboneers may need to empanel a subcommittee of ex-pat experts, folks who worked in South Dakota education, then worked in schools out-state and saw how things work.

  48. Nick Nemec

    Locking in state tax revenue to the county where it was collected is a terrible idea. Poor counties would get poorer and rich counties would get richer, helped along with a large dose of state tax dollars.