Rapid City Boosters Post Five Arguments for School Opt-Out

Support Our Schools RCSupporters of the referred school opt-out have taken to the web. Support Our Schools RC urges Rapid City school district voters to vote yes on June 2 for the six-million-dollar, five-year tax levy that the Rapid City school board approved in March. Their homepage banner offers five main reasons to vote Yes:

For the Kids: Our kids deserve the best education we can give them. Drastic multi-million dollar cuts in state aid to Rapid City have forced major cutbacks. The result is that we cannot provide the same quality of education for our kids that we did just a few years ago [SupportOurSchoolsRC.com, downloaded 2015.04.25].

See also my Thursday post, which reminds us that, far from “recovering” from the 2011 budget cuts, our schools have been sandbagged with a deficient state funding formula that leaves us five years behind where we would have been if we’d followed the law.

Teacher Pay: We are losing good teachers to neighboring states. A teacher can make 45% more in Wyoming, 22% more in Nebraska, and 43% more in Minnesota. We simply can’t keep our schools strong without the ability to retain and attract good teachers [SOS-RC].

SOS-RC may be looking at different stats from mine. The National Education Association’s March 2015 report shows that, compared to South Dakota, the average teacher salary is 24% higher in Nebraska, 37% higher in Minnesota, and 41% higher in Wyoming. But the point stands: Rapid City and everyone else in South Dakota struggles to recruit teachers with regionally uncompetitive wages.

Local Solution—Money Spent Here Stays Here: Money generated by the opt-out will stay in the local economy. Rapid City gets clobbered by the way the state calculates state aid to schools, which has aggravated the problem. Fortunately, every penny of the opt-out will be spent on local schools [SOS-RC].

The mention of flaws in the state formula is an interesting pitch for the anti-Pierre vote. But I have a feeling that the Rapid City voters who are sufficiently educated on the state’s K-12 funding formula are already in the opt-out camp, while the more general assortment of Rapid Citians who hate state government are likely to lean toward the anti-tax and (dare I suggest?) anti-public education crowd that helped refer this opt-out to a vote.

Economic Development: A strong, local, high wage economy starts with our education system. Attracting, creating, and keeping a well-educated workforce is the ket to local prosperity. We can build a strong foundation for economic success and shared prosperity by investing in education [SOS-RC].

Remember: this point isn’t just about educating good little welders and philosophers. This point is about saying to those families and businesses thinking about moving to Rapid, “Yes, we’ve got the Black Hills, I-90, Main Street Square, and Dinosaur Park. But we’re also a progressive town that funds our public schools adequately.” On another SOS-RC page, self-proclaimed big-government opponent Leigh Michelle Shaw puts the argument this way:

Lastly, this is the big one for citizens who don’t currently have students enrolled in the district, a failing education system affects local economy. A failing school district is not attractive to new families, which takes potential consumers out of our economy. Residents who may have wanted to run and operate businesses in the area may stay away. Producing an uneducated work force will only hurt our local economy in the long run [Leigh Michelle Shaw, “Before Signing the Petition…,” SOS-RC, downloaded 2015.04.25].

Ah! I could be wrong about SOS-RC’s appeal to those anti-government, anti-tax folks!

And SOS-RC’s fifth and final reason for voting yes:

The Time Is Now: Without the opt-out, the situation will go from bad to catastrophic. If approved, homeowners will pay an extra $6/month per $100,000 of property valuation. We can afford this and we can put our schools on more stable fotting. Nearly hald the schools in our state have already taken this positive step [SOS-RC].

I know we like to stay positive, but if you’re going to launch a word like catastrophic, let’s paint that catastrophe for the alarmed readers. It’s pretty simple: SOS-RC’s “Why Opt Out?” makes clear that if the opt-out fails, Rapid City schools will have to respond with more staff and teacher cuts, meaning even fewer smart, caring adults available to help their kids. Do you need more catastrophe than that?

I’ll be watching for the counter-websites and arguments from the opt-out opponents. Stay tuned, and let’s see if the school opt-out debate affects or drowns out the hotly contested mayoral campaign in Rapid City.

24 Responses to Rapid City Boosters Post Five Arguments for School Opt-Out

  1. barry freed

    They bought their own buses saying it would save $2 million per year, Never happened. Show us the books and we will help you. Failure should not be blindly rewarded.

  2. When was that bus deal, Barry? I take it you’re saying they contracted out to a bus company previously, then moved to running their own buses?

    On the same line, does the school contract out its lunch service?

  3. tara volesky

    There is a lot of waste in many big school districts. The Superintendents and school boards need to be better money managers.

  4. I am sure those who are for the opt-out will love this “rationale.” Those opposed will think it hyperbolic dung.

    The question is will it have any affect on the middle. Or is this intended to rally the troops to get out to vote. I think it the latter.

  5. larry kurtz

    It’s important to remember that Rapid City doesn’t give one shit about what residents of Sioux Falls believe.

  6. The answer to one of the questions above is that RC Schools made the decision to purchase buses and transport its own students – not contract for that service. That was 15 years ago. No student attending RC Schools today rode to school in RC on someone else’s bus.
    I know some people believe that the purpose of public entities is to provide the means to sustain for-profit operations, but those folks lost that argument in RC 15 yrs ago. The opt-out is not about how students travel to school. They need to focus on the real issues. That’s what the ‘5 Arguments’ post attempts to do.

  7. Cranky Old Dude

    The school district has an annual budget of $175 million. How much of that actually gets any where near a student or a classroom teacher’s pocket? The ultimate responsibility for how much teachers make rests with their school board, not the state.

    We pay large sums of money to a middle manager class-the alleged administrators and they drift from one crisis to the next always with their hands out for more and more money. Once upon a time, public institutions looked at how much money they had and that was what they spent. These days it is “How can we extort some more from the rubes?”

  8. Mr. Old Dude, you could not be more right.

  9. Cranky Old Dude and all those saying that there is a big conspiracy about how Rapid City uses its funds, here is the link to the schools budget for 2014-2015.

    This was actually the easiest one to find. It is on the school website under budget facts and additional links.


  10. Mr/s MLK, that is a good list. I see “teachers” listed in the expense column a couple of time but there are all kinds of other wasteful things listed. Do they make a summary just by teachers and total spending? I man with more math than I would have to go through and put all those things in 3 piles that all add up to the total. The teachers would be 1 pile. I bet you a fancy french toast that the other 2 piles are too big.

  11. Grudz – I’m struggling to interpret what you posted. Have you been drinking?

  12. I’m getting tired of having to shoot down the administrative-waste argument that comes up every time we suggest that out schools are really underfunded. Please review this comment I made on an earlier post:


    That comment doesn’t speak directly to Rapid City’s situation, but it does say that if we consolidated our school districts from 151 to 66 and laid off 55 of our 120 and over a hundred of our 412 principals, we still wouldn’t save enough money to raise teacher pay from our last-place ranking.

    The administrative-waste argument is too easy a dodge. It doesn’t require evidence or analysis. It’s just conservative anti-taxers screaming insults (“middle manager”? really? Let’s see you do the job) rooted in class envy.

    Remember, the school boards who write the contracts for the superintendents and principals aren’t some detached elite. They are our neighbors, fellow taxpayers whom we elect. How can school board members be guilty of wanton waste in administrative salary yet wage suppression against the much larger population of teachers? If the administrative-waste argument holds any water, how can so many school boards be committing this error?

  13. (Curt, in trying to interpret Grudz, you forget that Grudz comes just to distract and provoke, not advance our understanding. Grudz thinks the comment section is performance art for the recitation of retread phrases.)

  14. Donald Pay

    The problem with the “administration is the problem” folks, is they never identify positions to cut and how the work that person was doing gets redistributed to other positions. You can save money with consolidation, closing school buildings and cutting administrative positions, but you have to weight the cost savings versus the added costs and the opportunities lost.

    Sometimes the costs “saved” just doesn’t make economic sense.

  15. Nick Nemec

    Wouldn’t the big savings from consolidation not be in reduced administration but from having 25-30 kids in every class or section. No more small town classes with 10-15 kids.

  16. barry freed

    Yes Cory, a private concern provided bus service until the School Board claimed they could save “$2 million per year” by providing their own. Never happened.
    That is one reason I keep harping on “show us the books”. There are many local homeowners and business people who manage to keep a budget and they can help, but not if the Books are a secret.
    Opting out is an admission of failure and should be met with the automatic firing of the Superintendent and Board.
    What other Board and CEO keep their jobs after failing miserably?

  17. tara volesky

    Don’t build a $16 million dollar FAC for MHS and DWU, instead remodel the one you already have. Change the law that allows board members to use some of the capital outlay for teacher pay. Hire the best quality teachers even it you have to pay them a little more. Maybe Governor Kneip was a head of his time.

  18. Donald Pay

    I was on the RC school board when the board made the decision to use district owned buses, rather than out source it to a private company. Barry Freed has no idea what he is talking about. He’s off in his figures by an order of magnitude. The savings was predicted to be $200,000 per year, not $2,000,000 per year.

  19. Thanks for that firsthand history, Donald! That $200K savings—do you recall whether that pure profit for the private operator, or were there some services the private company offered that the school district chose not to offer?

  20. Donald Pay

    Regarding the transportation issue: What I recall is that Rapid City had capital expenditure funds that were high and we could afford making the investment from that fund in order to save money in our operations budget. Dan Dryden was the district’s business manager (now a Republican legislator) and the transportation head (Kenyon) proposed the idea. Aside from saving money in operations, we wanted to end a problem with having enough drivers to serve the students. High driver turnover was a big problem. The idea was to increase the wage of drivers, provide them some benefits and guarantee them a certain number of hours per day. That way we would decrease turnover in drivers. All that and $200,000 in operations budget savings. Not a bad deal, really, as long as you have enough in the capital budget.

    I recall we also combined and cut some administration positions. We also made one position’s salary dependent on the amount of grant money that position was able to pull in. Also, we closed two small schools (that’s two principals and some secretarial help).

  21. barry freed

    Donald Pay does not read the RC Journal. They said $2 million.

  22. Very concerned senior

    I am very disappointed the opt out did not go through. As a senior this year I am very glad I will be graduating before things get very bad. I feel absolutely terrible for the future students of rapid city. We can not afford tissues for our classrooms and we have to bring in computer paper at the beginning I of each year so we can make it through. Without these necessities we are already lacking and much more, how much worse can it get? No computers? No books? Shut down the library? I just can’t think of anything else to cut back on when we currently don’t have the necessities. My father is a teacher in the rapid city school district and loves his job. But the temptation always exists to leave to somewhere where he will be truly appreciated. Which is truly what is happening with our schools. Teachers are thrown to the side and deemed as unimportant and corrupt. Teachers educate and lay the fundamental bricks of knowledge and social skills. Whithout people to enstill the essentials in young people what kind of society will we be left with. Our students cannot control how money is spent and nothing will change except taking more from them and their eduction. It is our legal and fundamental right to a free public education but how can you call it an education of you’re lacking in even the most fundamental areas. Our school system is doing not only an injustice to today’s students but tommorrows rapid city.

  23. Donald Pay

    Barry, I just saw your post. Here is an article from 2001 when the decision was made. The entire purchase was $1.2 million, and this article says a potential savings of $400,000+/year. I recall the savings depended on fuel prices, and $200,000 was a conservative savings figure.