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Legislature Votes to Study County Funding, Bully SDHSAA

The South Dakota Legislature’s Executive Board made one intelligent decision and one petty, spiteful, unproductive decision yesterday in Pierre.

On the intelligent side, out of nineteen summer study options, the Executive Board chose to dedicate some time and energy to studying the vexing problem of county funding:

A delegation representing county commissioners and sheriffs, including several members of the Minnehaha County Commission, appeared before the board. Ken McFarland, the administrative officer for Minnehaha County, said the combination of rising costs for law enforcement and the decline in bank tax revenue point to “a train wreck coming for us.”

Property taxes aren’t keeping pace, and allowing county governments to have some sales tax revenue and some alcohol tax revenue are possible steps, McFarland said.

Law enforcement expenses take 53 percent of Minnehaha County’s $71 million budget, he said [Bob Mercer, “Lawmakers Choose County Revenue and High School Activities for Studies,” Aberdeen American News, 2015.04.28].

County funding affects every taxpayer across the state, from wealthy Minnehaha County, where the sheriff has to deal with the closest thing to big-city problems South Dakota can offer, to broke Bennett County, where the fragmented tax base can hardly pay to grade the gravel and keep the courthouse open.

Apparently the Legislature can’t address one serious problem without also taking up one fake problem bubbling up from its own warped and fetid prejudice. The Executive Board voted yesterday to conduct a study of the South Dakota High School Activities Association’s rule-making authority.

There is no profound problem with the SDHSAA’s rule-making authority. Our K-12 schools form an organization, governed by school administrators and school board members, that sets the rules for sports and fine arts activities. Our schools manage their own extracurricular activities with little difficulty or intrusion of the Legislature’s partisan politics.

But last year our schools, through their activities association, followed several other states in enacting a policy making clear the conditions under which transgender students can participate in high school activities (complete with an exemption for religious schools), and certain fearful conservatives went ape. Legislators worked themselves into a lather trying to usurp the SDHSAA’s authority with legislation that would have repealed that inclusive transgender policy. Legislators and religious lobbyists engaged in false fear-mongering and shameful bullying. All of that legislation failed, but now legislators (including some who helped defeat that legislation) are pressuring the SDHSAA to rescind its transgender policy.

That’s what’s happening with this summer study. The Legislature isn’t studying a major problem. The Legislature is practicing procedural extortion: Repeal the transgender policy, or we’ll propose all sorts of legislation to take away your control over your own activities.  The Legislature will grab the last annual audit of the SDHSAA and blow the errors found out of proportion into proposals that far exceed any changes the Legislature felt necessary in the wake of the far larger sins discovered in the 2014 audit of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.

The Legislature already commits serial abuse against our schools by throttling their funding. Now the Legislature wants to kick around our schools’ authority to govern their own extracurriculars. The Legislature makes time for this enhanced abuse by ignoring other genuine problems to which it could dedicate some problem-solving energy like…

  • studying the immediate impacts of its new $85-million road tax bill and the 80-mph speed limit;
  • looking for legislative policies that could support workforce development (Senators Sutton and Parsley advocated for exactly that, but the Republican majority said workforce issues don’t warrant their attention);
  • reviewing the state’s multi-million-dollar expenditures on foolish ad campaigns;
  • conducting formal Legislative hearings on each Indian reservation to talk about serious proposals to support white-tribal reconciliation.

I look forward to the formal interim hearings on county funding and the practical solutions that may arise. I dread the repetition of uninformed paranoia and ill-disguised prejudice and bullying that will come from the SDHSAA rule-making summer study.


  1. Lynn 2015-04-28 08:15

    This past spring I was visiting with a county commissioner in one of our medium sized cities and I was impressed at how he knew down to the detail what his expenses were, life span of culverts, maintenance of county equipment, cost to gravel or pave roads and other challenges his and other counties faced. He talked about a real disconnect in how things actually worked between Pierre and how they disburse funds and what counties actually need.

    He felt fortunate that his county was growing population, economic and tax revenue wise but was concerned about the counties that are not as fortunate with population loss. He said that one county he knows of cannot even afford to plow or salt it’s roads anymore and mentioned the liability that could result from that.

    How long will it be before South Dakota finally overhauls it’s tax system? Years? Our lifetime?

  2. Bob Newland 2015-04-28 09:26

    “its roads,” not “it’s roads”

    “its tax system,” not “it’s tax system”

  3. Lynn 2015-04-28 09:42

    Bob is there a contact info where you can proof read before I post? Let’s see there’s Spell Check and Bob Newland check :)

  4. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-04-28 09:56

    How sure are we Newland’s checks won’t bounce?

  5. Nick Nemec 2015-04-28 10:01

    I’ll vouch for these two checks.

  6. Lynn 2015-04-28 10:07

    Can we use my lack of writing skills and punctuation to further illustrate our state’s historic low priority in education funding?

  7. Douglas Wiken 2015-04-28 13:26

    SDHSAA also decided to have girls and boys basketball season at same time. Winner School board and Supt. Carrier are using that as an excuse to build a fourth gymnasium costing $2 million. Winner graduates 30 to 40 students per year. It already has more floor space for athletics than for academics. If the legislature weren’t also filled with a crowd of dolts, it might well be time to evaluate what the school athletic industry promotes and needless costs thus generated.

  8. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-04-28 15:34

    Well, hang on, Douglas. When we say “SDHSAA decided…,” we’re probably saying the school districts decided. When did we combine those seasons, the 1990s? I would image that season proposal would have come from interested schools, gone through a lot of discussion, and then faced a vote, at the very least of the Board of Directors elected by the schools, if not of the entire membership. Anyone recall the history of that change?

  9. Nick Nemec 2015-04-28 17:51

    Wasn’t there a threatened lawsuit based on gender discrimination? Every other school in the country had volleyball in the fall and girls basketball in the winter. Colleges overlooked SD girl volleyball players because they were done scouting by the time our winter season came around. It was contended that SD girls were being discriminated against compared to girls in other states. The SDHSAA decided to move the season and get in step with the rest of the nation, thereby making the suit moot rather than fight it.

  10. scott 2015-04-28 18:04

    I suspect the ultimate goal is for the legislate to take control of the SDHSAA. With the next census and redistricting, even more power will be given to SE South Dakota. I suspect it will not be long before the legislature will be demanding seats on the SDHSAA board to have a say where events will be located. I suspect it will not be long before most SDHSAA events are held in Sioux Falls, with a token few given to Rapid City.

    Just my guess on what is going on.

  11. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-04-28 19:59

    Nick is right about the basketball season changes. The lawsuit was progressing and the SDHSAA did the fiscally wise thing, preempting court costs, monetary awards, etc. That’s exactly what the organization is doing now regarding transgender issues.

    On the other hand, Koch’s legislature in SD is spending millions of state tax payer’s hard-earned dollars on frivolous actions that will be overturned via the courts, costing those same tax payers more millions of dollars.

    But the Kochs and their legislature don’t care because it’s not their money – it’s Yours! Merry Christmas!

  12. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-04-28 21:13

    That’s right! There was a gender discrimination angle. This Black Hills Pioneer article says SDHSAA approved the switch in November 2000 and implemented it in 2002. SDHSAA originally rejected the switch, reflecting the opinion of a majority of schools, but as Nick says, they switched to settle the lawsuit.

    Deb, that’s a really good point about fiscal sensibility. Funny how we have two bodies in Pierre, one working for our schools to avoid lawsuits and provide equity, the other eagerly drawing lawsuits (and, contrary to their rhetoric on other issues, always able to find the money to support them) to promote some ideological agenda.

    Scott speculates that the Legislature wants to take control of SDHSAA. Pause a moment: imagine what state tournaments run by the Legislature would look like. Imagine the Legislature dictating rule changes for football, basketball, and the one-act play contest. Imagine the Legislature setting ticket prices for District and Region playoff games. Imagine the political and fiscal carnage.

    School boards, you see what happens when the Legislature sets the parameters of your funding. Do you really want the Legislature in charge of your extracurricular activities?

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