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Daugaard Announces First 13 Members of Education Panel

Governor Dennis Daugaard has named the first thirteen members of his new Blue Ribbon Task Force on Teachers and Students (what’s our pronounceable acronym: BluRT-FTS?):

The Blue Ribbon task force will be co-chaired by Sen. Deb Soholt (R-Sioux Falls) and Rep. Jacqueline Sly (R-Rapid City). Sen. Soholt and Rep. Sly chair the Education Committees in their respective chambers.

In addition to Sen. Soholt and Rep. Sly, the initial appointees are:

  • Sen. Corey Brown (R-Gettysburg)
  • Sen. Troy Heinert (D-Mission)
  • Sen. Billie Sutton (D-Burke)
  • Sen. Craig Tieszen (R-Rapid City)
  • Rep. Justin Cronin (R-Gettysburg)
  • Rep. Paula Hawks (D-Hartford)
  • Rep. Mark Mickelson (R-Sioux Falls)
  • Rep. Steve Westra (R-Sioux Falls)
  • Dr. Melody Schopp, Secretary of Education
  • Tony Venhuizen, Gov. Daugaard’s chief of staff
  • Jason Dilges, Commissioner of the Bureau of Finance and Management

[Office of Governor Dennis Daugaard, press release, 2015.03.18]

Governor Dennis Daugaard and blue ribbon
Expect the Governor to hand out lots of these ribbons by the end of the year.

That’s just the beginning. After stakeholder meetings through May, Governor Daugaard will make the committee even bigger. The Governor says some stakeholders will want one meeting to “unload their opinions” but won’t “want to participate in the task force because it’s too much time commitment,” but he will appoint willing (but not willful?) teachers, parents, and school board members to meet from June through October to come up with legislative proposals.

The BluRT-FTS appointees don’t inspire confidence. Rep. Sly was a teacher, but she backed Governor Daugaard’s really bad (and voter-rejected) education reform package in 2012. Rep. Cronin prime-sponsored HB 1207, which would have reduced net K-12 funding $9 million, and Senate Bill 177, the youth minimum wage bill. Both bills show Rep. Cronin thinks kids are worth less. Senator Brown prime-sponsored no legislation this year, or in 2014, or 2013, or 2012, or 2011, to improve K-12 education. (In 2013, Senator Brown sponsored a bill to reduce funding for small schools. In 2012, he sponsored a stand-alone bill to repeal continuing contract protections for experienced teachers. In 2011, he sponsored one bill to repeal the statute forcing small schools to consolidate but sponsored another bill to further reduce school tax levies.) Rep. Mickelson thinks parents who consider climate change and evolution “fringe ideas” aren’t given enough hearing by public school boards.

Assuming he can get past that wall of Republican inattention and ill intention, Senator Sutton offers gentle suggestions for what the BluRT-FTS should talk about. The usually optimistic Senator Bernie Hunhoff (D-18/Yankton) tries to back-jinx the committee by predicting it will get bogged down in discussions of reserve funds and capital outlay, but he’s pretty sure the BluRT-FTS won’t deliver any results not already found in file boxes in Pierre from previous education task forces. Rep. Hunhoff says the problem is obvious: “the state has been shifting the cost onto taxpayers” and “the state’s not doing its share.”

Keep an eye out for BluRT-FTS stakeholder meetings near you. Unload your opinions, and tell the Governor you only need one meeting to come up with legislation: eliminate one eighth of our sales tax exemptions to fund $10,000 raises for every teacher.


  1. Lynn 2015-03-19 10:53

    How many of you think this Blue Ribbon Panel will be just for show?

    I’ve been looking at houses for some time in some of our medium sized cities and can’t believe how high our property taxes are in our state and will now go up again. It’s not just the certain houses but the marginal neighborhoods they are in and how much they are taxed! It is obviously passed down to renters too. Our state tax system is so out of whack and is very regressive. We need a tax overhaul with a state income tax to properly fund education but I don’t see the political courage for that to happen for a long time unless there is a drastic political upset in the near future.

    Meanwhile we have people and entities carrying an unfair heavy burden being taxed and entities that are either not paying any tax, not paying enough or taking advantage of loopholes.

  2. Curt 2015-03-19 10:57

    And they’re off …
    I’m resisting the urge to condemn this vehicle before it gets started, but that’s difficult. Rep Hawks is an excellent choice – a former teacher with good ideas and a nimble mind. Sens Soholt and Tieszen are also very capable – I just worry that their party may bind their hands. The Gov could hardly exclude Rep Sly (as House Ed Comm Chr) but she has remained steadfastly committed to the ill-conceived and misguided 2012 effort eventually rejected by the voters. I guess I should cling (for now) to the hopes that something good may come from all of this. God (and anyone else who’s considered the topic seriously) certainly know we need it.

  3. mike from iowa 2015-03-19 11:00

    I make it 10 to 3 in favor of wingnuts and Daugaard hangs around to break a 10 to 3 deadlock. Am I right?

  4. MOSES 2015-03-19 13:00

    Soholt and Tiezen give me a break their followers not Leaders,Wheres their bill to totally fund education.

  5. grudznick 2015-03-19 13:07

    I think that young Mr. Cronin will keep this force on track. There will be more people appointed like perhaps Mr. H and other like minded anti- people so the other sides can be heard according to the news I read. This Blurtf will probably meet all summer and have a good report that will be legislated next year.

  6. mike from iowa 2015-03-19 13:12

    nuther wingnut not paying attention to debate to take away teachers collective bargaining rights.

    Wingnut above apologized for his inattention,claiming he already knew where his vote was goingn before debate. Decisions made in advance and they don’t bother going through the motions.

  7. jerry 2015-03-19 17:37

    Daugaard also announced today that he will seat a blue ribbon panel to discuss the pro’s and con’s of carving a monument in the Black Hills to honor presidents. He hopes to have that process completed very soon, his office said.

  8. Owen 2015-03-19 17:44

    Billie Sutton is a great choice but like the whole panel it’s just for show. He’s one against against a bunch. This has been all studied before. waste of time and money

  9. grudznick 2015-03-19 19:38

    If Mr. Sutton is only a show pony and he agrees with all you insaner libbies he should protest and refuse to serve. If he serves it will show you this is a legitimate blue ribbon group as he is a swell fellow and respected by most.

  10. grudznick 2015-03-19 19:54

    Mr. Bernie is always down at the mouth. It is no wonder he was not asked to contribute a positive can-do attitude. Buck up, lar, you and Mr. Bernie share a frown.

  11. Lynn 2015-03-19 20:04


    That radio interview with Sen Hunhoff further emphasized the increasing already unfair burdon on property taxes when looking for additional money for education.

    Many times I’ve been shocked to see what property taxes have been on a few houses I was interested in. These are decent houses in a very competitive affordable range being not slums and far from being McMansions. They could be in a marginal neighborhood in an older part of one of our medium sized cities so their could be some neglected eyesores down the street but still the high property taxes do not represent a good value in housing.

    Then I think about our low wage workforce working multiple jobs or those on fixed incomes trying to stay in these houses while maintaining them. It’s obvious many are not keeping up with maintenance and then when they move out we have an issue with the lack of quality affordable housing. That is challenging. Lawrence Diggs had an excellent article today regarding the need/shortage for quality housing Again we have a very regressive tax structure that needs to be fixed!

  12. larry kurtz 2015-03-19 20:10

    Saturday marked the year’s second Yankton Area Chamber of Commerce legislative cracker barrel at the Avera Pavilion. District 18 state representatives Mike Stevens and Jean Hunhoff and Sen. Bernie Hunhoff used the event as an opportunity to update the public on the session’s efforts in dealing with education and Medicaid expansion. Sen. Bernie Hunhoff said much more work needs to be done on funding education in South Dakota. He suggested that South Dakota institute a corporate income tax in order to raise the funds for education. Sen. Hunhoff said the state’s expansion may not take on as many people as previously thought. “We’ve been working out numbers that indicates there are about 48,000 people who would access Medicaid services if they were able to,” he said. “North Dakota has already done this and they’ve only got 12-16,000, so it looks like the numbers might be quite a bit lower than we’ve been talking about, thus making the program much more affordable.” The final District 18 forum of the 2015 session is set for March 7 at 10 a.m. at the Avera Professional Pavilion in Yankton. [Rob Nielsen, Yankton Press and Dakotan]

  13. Owen 2015-03-19 20:12

    I don’t think Mr. Sutton should refuse to be part of it but he’s just a token Democrat.
    Nothing will change and nothing will come of the panel

  14. grudznick 2015-03-19 20:16

    Mr. Sutton should resign from the blurp or endorse it. Mr. Hunhoff seems like pooh bear’s donkey.

  15. Lynn 2015-03-19 20:16


    It’s good our Democratic legislators will be there but feel it will be a very frustrating exercise with a predetermined outcome. At least their suggestions will be on record.

  16. Owen 2015-03-19 20:29

    I agree Lynn. But will anybody listen?

  17. larry kurtz 2015-03-19 20:29

    Mr. Daugaard should have the microscope of justice probe his colon.

  18. Jana 2015-03-19 20:46

    The Governor had better make sure that the Pabst Blue Ribbon panel is open to the public and that there will be media allowed to attend all meetings.

    Lynn is right that at least the Democrats on the panel will be on the record. I really want the Republican members on the record and hard questions are asked.

  19. grudznick 2015-03-19 20:52

    If Mr. H and I get on this Blurp we will be voices of reason. If only one of us can be I hope it’s Mr. H.

  20. Jana 2015-03-19 21:12

    As a matter of fact, I strongly encourage the Democratic members demand transcripts of each session.

  21. Donald Pay 2015-03-19 22:48

    I served on a couple of these types of committees in my time in South Dakota (on environmental issues, not education issues). These committees can be helpful in clarifying issues, but are not that helpful in making meaningful change if it has to go through the legislative process. If tax increases or tax changes are involved, rather than just policy changes, you first have to have a commitment to increase taxes or change taxes right up front. If you aren’t committed up front to pay for a better education system, you might as well not waste taxpayers’ money on this task force. As far as clarifying issues, you don’t really need to study much. It’s all been done many times in the past. All you need is some updating of data/statistics.

    This committee may be too large and unwieldy to have any meaningful discussion, so I suspect there will be subcommittees formed to address issues and hold hearings. There needs to be a mechanism for and staff support for writing up and including minority positions. Just having a committee that ramrods whatever b.s. the majority party wants seems to be a covert way to have taxpayers fund writing the Republican Party’s platform plank on education, but it isn’t a way to make progress on any of these issues.

    The Education Commission of the States, which is going to be providing data to the this task force, has some useful data up on its site. And the state’s Ed Department has other data. And there’s a huge amount of information in past reports. Are these esteemed Legislators so intellectually challenged that they can’t just read the data there, and save the taxpayers money?

  22. MD 2015-03-20 01:30

    Anyone interested in starting a betting pool on whether or not any bills brought forth by this committee will actually pass? (or even make it past committee…)

  23. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-03-20 07:41

    Grudz, you pose a false dilemma. Senator Sutton is not obliged to resign from or endorse the panel. He can participate in the discussion, push for real solutions, and, if he finds the panel failing, decry and disown their efforts. Even if we think it’s just a show, we have an obligation to show up, present facts and evidence and good ideas, and dare the Republicans to keep ignoring them in favor of their anti-teacher ideology.

  24. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-03-20 07:44

    Jana makes a good point that Democrats presence is required to keep proceedings open and honest. Even if we are convinced that the BluRT-FTS won’t produce results, the meetings will be prime opportunities for us to exercise “radical witness,” being there to document and decry the Republicans’ do-nothingism. As Donald notes, we need a process that ensures writing up a minority report.

    Though as Donald says, there’s not much new for this panel to report. The Republicans can recapitulate the results of all those preceding task forces, while the minority can simply summarize the top twenty articles on education from Dakota Free Press/Madville Times. We have all the information we need; we just need to the Legislative will to act.

  25. Curt 2015-03-20 08:48

    Don and Cory – excellent commentary. The education funding formula is known inside the Capitol as the ‘Cutler-Gabriel’ Plan, referring to Steve Cutler and Larry Gabriel who were the Repub leaders of the House and Senate respectively at the time (late ’90s). It determines the way that state aid is distributed among the various districts and how state funds and local property tax revenue is blended in that pool. Cutler and Gabriel (IMO) had an ability to understand complex problems, work together to find solutions, and the leadership skills to implement those solutions.
    It seems evident that Cutler-Gabriel no longer adequately meets the needs of many districts, but what is needed is more than just re-distribution of the money in the formula. Adding more revenue for districts to divide up is one way to move the ball forward, but the legislature has consistently rejected that idea (last week, last year, this administration, the previous one, etc.) Is there any reason to believe the BluRT-FTS will suddenly and magically change course?
    I would like to see the panel tackle this issue with a more innovative approach. Use the road and bridge issue as a model. There were several new angles explored and proposals offered before the legislature eventually basically reverted to form and just raised license fees and fuel taxes in an attempt to bandage that wound. The school funding problem is not likely to be addressed adequately without participants first agreeing that it is a problem (really – some still deny that it is) and then considering innovative alternatives and committing to finding real solutions. Let me suggest one of my own.
    The state has a successful retirement program for its employees which also requires participation by local units of government and school districts. The rationale was that they wanted a broader pool of contributors. One of the greatest burdens school districts and their employees face currently is employee health insurance. What would be wrong with the state allowing schools to participate in the state system – maybe even helping out by picking up part of the premium? I think it could go a long way to addressing the fiscal issues districts face and might even serve to restore morale among school employees in SD.

  26. Rod Hall 2015-03-20 10:36

    Donald Pay offered a very good source for the committee to seek advice from. That is the Education Commission of the States. I was the first SD State Senator appointed and reappointed to that Commission. That was about 40 years ago after the Democratic Legislature passed Rep. James Nelson (R- Rapid City) bill for SD to enter the Commission. Rep. Nelson had tried but the republican legislatures would not pass his bill.

    Because the Education Commission of the States sees funding in all the states it takes a broader look at what could be done. Some forty years ago they determined that the SD Constitution provided the strongest language that the state, not the local, should provide more financial support. With that prospect the Associated School Boards of SD, under Gordon Nelson and SDEA under Bob Hald, funded a law suit in SD. Because they advocated an income tax. The case was dismissed. So this group with good information will not be given a high priority.

  27. Curt 2015-03-20 14:09

    It’s COMPLETELY off the topic, but Gary’s obit appears in the 3/19 edition of the RC Jrnl. The penultimate sentence (IMO) sums it up well. “His (Gary’s) life was simple as he tried to avoid materialism.” He dedicated his life to important matters, and I for one will miss him.

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