For five decades, South Dakota ran its vo-tech schools unconstitutionally, allowing local school boards to manage them instead of the Board of Regents, the only entity authorized by the state constitution to manage post-secondary education. In November, we voters fixed that problem by fixing the constitution with Amendment R, specifying that the Regents most certainly do not run the vo-techs and authorizing the Legislature to determine who does.
Now the Legislature could leave the vo-techs just as they are. But, living up to the fears of cost and bureaucracy raised by Rep. Elizabeth May during the 2016 campaign, the Legislature has decided instead to pile a new layer of crony-prone, less publicly unaccountable bureaucracy to run the vo-techs.
Senate Bill 65, brought to us by Senator Jim Bolin and House Speaker G. Mark Mickelson, would create the South Dakota Board of Technical Education (BTE), consisting of nine people, drawing per diem and expenses, appointed by the Governor. SB 65 Section 2 requires the Governor to pick four of those members from lists proposed by the vo-techs, a requirement that prime sponsor Senator Jim Bolin said in the lawsuit he joined two months ago was an unconstitutional way to pick the IM 22 ethics commission (darn short memory, Jim!). Section 10 authorizes the BTE to hire an executive director, which will cost six figures (benchmark: Board of Regents exec gets $379K). SB 65 contains no appropriations, but if it passes, the Appropriations Committee will need to carve out some new lines to cover those expenses (plus job hunt expenses, an office for the new exec, staff, a couple cars, that lunch the Governor owes me for helping pass Amendment R…).
Section 11 says, “The local governing body of each postsecondary technical institute shall retain all powers not expressly given to the board.” So if I’m reading that right, we’re keeping some level of local control and creating a new layer of statewide bureaucracy to which they must answer.
SB 65 Section 35 could create even more bureaucracy by allowing the four school boards who currently run vo-techs to get out. Sioux Falls, Watertown, Mitchell, and Rapid City school boards can petition the BTE to make each vo-tech a completely separate entity. Instead of being governed by the publicly elected school board, a separated vo-tech would be run by a new nine-member board initially appointed by the farewelling school board. As terms cycle, the originating school board would continue to appoint three members of the separated vo-tech’s board, but the Governor would appoint three, and the separated vo-tech board members would pick three of their own successors, “with input from trade and industry representatives in the region and the postsecondary technical institute president” (here come the cronies!).
As if it’s not enough to give big money more direct control of our public vo-techs, SB 65 also swats down teachers’ meager labor rights. Section 39 takes continuing contract protections away from all vo-tech employees. The vo-techs will at least have to give non-renewed employees at least 60 days notice that they don’t get to come back to teach next year.*
SB 65 weakens local public control of vo-techs while creating more bureaucracy and expense. I look forward to seeing whether Rep. Elizabeth May lines up any opposition to a bill that has among its sponsors Republican and Democratic leaders from both chambers and even conservative Senator Stace Nelson.
Update and Correction 14:52 CST: An eager reader suggests vo-tech teachers may already by screwed out of continuing contract protection by state law. Sure enough, I go reading the law books and find SDCL 13-39-65, which excludes “any person employed in a public postsecondary technical institute” from continuing contract protection and requires the local governing board to give the same 60-day notice of nonrenewal that SB 65 requires in Section 39. So, on the bright side, SB 65 doesn’t make life any worse for vo-tech teachers than it already is. And maybe on the even brighter side, given that mention of continuing contract, perhaps the Legislature has the opportunity to attract more people to teach at the vo-techs by striking that section and SDCL 13-39-65 and granting vo-tech teachers the same meager labor rights that their K-12 compadres enjoy.