Four Legislators: Rumored Daugaard Tax Hikes Justify Voting Against Rapid City Opt-Out

Rep. Lynne DiSanto (R-35/Rapid City) speaks at a press conference opposing the school opt-out vote, 2015.06.01. Photo by Smarter Solutions for Students, Facebook post, 2015.06.01.
Rep. Lynne DiSanto (R-35/Rapid City) speaks at a press conference opposing the school opt-out vote, 2015.06.01. Joining DiSanto at the podium are (from left, at table) Rep. Blaine Campbell (R-35/Rapid City), Sen. Phil Jensen (R-33/Rapid City), and Rep. Lance Russell (R-30/Hot Springs). Photo by Smarter Solutions for Students, Facebook post, 2015.06.01.

DiSanto Prefers School Consolidation!

State legislators Phil Jensen, Lance Russell, Blaine Campbell, and Lynne DiSanto staged a press conference yesterday to express their opposition to the Rapid City Area Schools property tax opt-out, on which Rapid Citians are voting today.

Wait a minute: Rep. Russell is from Hot Springs. Is he allowed to come politick on an opt-out vote in a district he does not represent? [Correction 12:47 CDT: Russell does represent a chunk of RCAS! As local geographer Curt points out in our lead-off comment, District 30 wanders right up into the southern range of the Rapid City school district.]

In the press release from media event hosts Smarter Solutions for Students, none of the legislators express any opposition to the idea of Rapid City residents spending more money on students in and of itself. Instead, curiously, they warn that they themselves will likely head back to Pierre and raise taxes on everybody:

State Representative Russell stated his opposition to the opt-out issue is due to their concern over impending tax increases that are rumored to be coming from the state legislator’s blue ribbon task force on education. Russell stated that he felt the public has a right to know of the potential impending tax increases from the state, prior to voting on a $30 million opt-out property tax increase locally. Russell challenged Governor Daugaard to “level with the voters of Rapid City prior to such a large property tax increase,” stating that he felt the Governor was not being forthcoming in regards to resolving the state education issues [Smarter Solutions for Students, press release, 2015.06.01].

So Rapid City voters face a definite budget shortfall with definite staff and program cuts in their schools, but Russell, DiSanto, and company say Rapid Citians should vote instead on potential tax hikes rumored in Pierre?

I’m not sure how this argument plays well for the legislators involved. Either they are affirming Senator Jensen’s Session-ending assessment that legislators, themselves included, are mostly ineffective puppets who couldn’t stop a gubernatorial tax hike if they wanted, or they are telling voters that they themselves plan to vote for a state tax increase and don’t want a local opt-out to drain the bucket of cash and political will and make their vote harder. In either case, the legislators are making a good case for electing new legislators.

Rep. DiSanto confuses matters further:

Representative DiSanto said, in opposition to the opt-out, that the Governor’s recommendation of an opt-out as a solution to local education problems is “not going about it the right way;”… [SSS, 2015.06.01].

Rep. DiSanto goes to Pierre as part of the SDGOP “no new taxes” clique, does nothing in her first session in Pierre to tackle the Legislature’s generation-spanning neglect of K-12 funding that has put Rapid City and most other South Dakota schools under enormous financial pressure, and she says the only option the Legislature and the Governor have left for local districts is not the right way to keep teachers in the classrooms? What is the right way, Rep. DiSanto?

“I think we really need to seriously take a look at the number of districts we have here in South Dakota and possibly talk about doing some consolidation in some areas where it would make sense,” said DiSanto [“Legislators Urge a ‘No’ on Opt Out,” KOTA-TV, updated 2015.06.02].

Rep. DiSanto can’t brook putting more resources into education. Rather than allowing her neighbors to invest more money in the second-largest school district in the state, she wants her neighbors to let their schools suffer for a year and hope that a politically unsalable plan will allow them to raid the budgets of smaller school districts. Don’t plant more crops; just turn cannibal—why does that not sound like a Smarter Solution for Students?

Rapid City voters, maybe you can come up with some good reasons for voting against the opt-out today. But these four legislators aren’t giving you any.

20 Responses to Four Legislators: Rumored Daugaard Tax Hikes Justify Voting Against Rapid City Opt-Out

  1. Rep Russell does live in Fall River County and represents Dist 30 – which encompasses all of Curter and Fall River Counties as well as much of rural Pennington. There are residents of Dist 30 who reside within the boundaries of the RC School Dist – Hart Ranch area, for example.

  2. Curt, you’re right! Thanks for that correction. I look at the District 30 map and see that Russell’s domain runs right up to the area south of town that you mention, then reaches out to encompass New Underwood, Wasta, and Wall. That’s a long drive!

    For more gerrymander fun, check out the school district map: note the island of Meade school district surrounded by Rapid City and Box Elder, plus some interesting border interweavings between the New Underwood and Wall districts.

  3. The fix is in, old white dudes are scared shitless about the fact that teachers, of all people, should be paid a decent salary. In the meantime, we continue to fall behind the 8 ball.

  4. SuperSweet

    School consolidation has been talked about as the solution to school finance for years. There were big consolidation efforts accomplished in1967. And since then there have been many more but the problem still remains unsolved because the savings have been minimal. People with no real solution most often bring up the consolidation issue as a diversionary tactic to get us thinking in a different direction.

  5. Donald Pay

    I think the point made by DiSanto is so far removed from this earth that you wonder how she can breathe in that oxygen-free environment:

    “As it has been said, the Opt-Out is not a solution for our school districts and has been a continued increase in property taxes to our citizens,” says District 35 Representative, Lynne DiSanto.

    Uh, not in Rapid City. This is the first time citizens have been asked to opt out in the history of the opt out (adopted in the mid-1990s). I haven’t been around Rapid City for 14 years and even I keep a finger on the pulse of the community better than this DiSorry Excuse for a Legislator.

    By the way, no one says and opt-out is a solution. It’s an emergency measure made necessary by brain dead legislators, like DiSorry Excuse.

    Then DiSorry Excuse continues: “The governors office has shown that there are some steps being made towards addressing some of the education issues in South Dakota. Rather than putting a band-aid on it via an Opt-Out, let’s go back to the Governor’s office and back to the legislators to see if we can address this in a way that will affect the whole state of South Dakota, not just here in Rapid City.”

    “Some steps being taken” is about as clear an introduction to a line of bullshit as anything I’ve ever seen. Yeah, the Governor is holding some bullshit meetings. My ass is permanently numb from all the meetings I attended on school funding, and nothing changed. Notice that DiSorry Excuse provides absolutely zero ideas for a solution, a true sign of South Dakota legislative competence.

    Then she, I kid you not, says that an opt-out is a Band-Aid. Well, that Band-Aid was put there by the very Legislature that she sits in. Any time during the 20 years the school funding formula has been in place the Legislature could have change it. Yeah, it is a Band-Aid, but when you need one, you put it on, rather than make DiSorry Excuses.

    Hopefully, Rapid Citians will put on the Band Aide because DiSorry Excuse is too busy cleaning up the mess from the enema she just took on the students of Rapid City.

  6. Oh, that’s right, SuperSweet: we have a great empirical example of consolidation from the 1960s that we can investigate for cost savings. According to the research cited in my April 21 post on teacher pay, South Dakota ranked higher in teacher pay before consolidation and sank in that ranking after 1970 until it hit last place in 1986 and got stuck there.

    Looks to me as if school consolidation doesn’t solve the teacher pay problem, and the teacher pay problem is the #1 budget problem for every school in South Dakota.

  7. Donald, well put. Opt outs are emergency responses to the fiscal wreck caused by the Legislature’s and the Governor’s neglect. Asking Rapid City schools to wait for the Legislature to act is like looking at someone having a heart attack and saying, “Let’s not do CPR; instead, let’s encourage him to eat right and exercise.”

  8. Roger Cornelius

    Today I voted for Sam and the opt-out, but with some concern.

    My basic concern is that it appears we will be throwing money at a problem the school district doesn’t seem capable of solving. The school board needs to do a line by line audit of their accounts. For instance where can they really save money. Some services contracted for could be financially solved by hiring additional staff and vice versa.
    Also, the school has been hesitant to discuss their “rainy day” funds. Guess what? It has not been raining financial mismanagement, it has been pouring.
    The good news is that school superintendent Tim Mitchell has resigned.
    The bad news is that his resignation won’t be effective until sometime in 2016.

  9. I just heard from a friend working a polling place in the part of Rapid Valley adjacent to the Box Elder (Douglas) Dist. He says they’ve had 34 voters so far and turned away 26 who are registered in the Douglas Dist. Apathy is a weird thing.

  10. Nobody wants to vote for new board members. That leaves the ones that won’t give the good teachers raises in control.

  11. Donald Pay


    I doubt there is a lot of “financial mismanagement” in the Rapid City district. The district is always looking for exactly the kind of tradeoffs you suggest. If you see something that would save money, why not suggest it.

    I found problems with the RC district’s budgeting process, but it wasn’t in the staffing areas, where most of the money is spent. One thing that is pretty predictable in school budgets are the costs of staff.

    When I was on the board, several of the lines (in travel and in supplies) in various funds were budgeted according to a formula, or kept the same year after year, rather than on the basis of past spending. When you looked at actual expenditures for those line items in each of the instructional funds, the spending rarely reached 66 percent of what was budgeted. So, was the district being conservative in its spending in those areas? I don’t know. If you’re suspicious, it’s overbudgeting in order to create little pots of money throughout the budget to draw on when you might want to raid it. The problem with that suspicion is that there was no evidence that the money was ever raided for anything, and was folded back into the next years’ budgets.

    The supply budget issue bothered me because teachers would always complain about being told they didn’t have money for supplies, and had to purchase them on their own. There seemed to be a mismatch between the district budget and what got loaded into individual school accounts.

    The issue of overbudgeting bothered me because I was looking for extra money for programs for students (TAG, strings, debate, and alternative instruction). We could have cut the budget in some areas, and provided the money to others, since the money budgeted was only being partly utilized in the travel and supply line items. But you have to be realistic. That amount of such money is not enough to make any dent at all in the teacher salary issue.

  12. Donald Pay

    Lance, I think, was still serving the Republican legislators as a staffer during the mid-1990s at the time when the “Band Aid” was shoved through the Legislature along with the abominable funding formula that made the “Band Aid” necessary. Anyway, I doubt the Band Aid will pass, because people are fed up with the lack of Legislative action on this. The lack of funding is a state problem, really, but with DiSanto and Russell and the rest of the clown car, don’t expect any action whatsoever.

  13. There are many school districts trying to put on “opt- out band aids” to try to help the problem of under paid teachers. I have a great solution to help the State better fund education. The position in schools that is not under paid, actually it is highly overpaid, is the position of school Superintendent. I say fire all Superintendents and restructure the state system to have only 4 Superintendents. One for Rapid City, one for Sioux Falls and one East river and one West river. If currently Sioux Falls and Rapid City can each run then districts with only one Superintendent why do we as tax payers need to pay for a Superintendent for districts like Rutland, Chester, Madison, Custer, Flandreau, and so on. There is currently a high paid Superintendent for every district no matter how big or small. If Rapid City can have only one Superintendent for the huge student body they serve why can a single Superintendent not serve the rest of West river. I bet the student numbers in all school districts West river are not that different then the students in the Rapid City school district. The same goes for East river and Sioux Falls. Just think of the money saved on all those Superintendents salaries. Then put that savings into increasing the teachers salaries. I guess the problem is that the over paid Superintendents would not vote out there jobs to save South Dakota’s education system and pay the people actually trying to teach our children. Someone should really run the hard numbers on this idea.

  14. We’ve heard this line before, Craig. Administrators in SD K-12 are not overpaid. The most revent ranking numbers I can find say our principals rank third to last in the nation in pay. Administrative salaries make up $40 million in K-12 expenses. Your four-regional-supes plan saves maybe $9 million, which, if applied entirely to teacher pay, gives each teacher a raise of less than a thousand dollars, leaving us ranked 51st in teacher pay.

    Read more in this comment:

    There is a widespread urge to fire the rich guys, the administrators we perceive to be getting too much money for doing work that we don’t recognize as difficult. Alas, acting on that urge is not a solution. There is no easy solution. There is no scapegoat class. We need more revenue, and we are all to blame for not having the guts to raise that revenue.

  15. tara volesky

    Restructure our regressive tax system. Time for corporate and personal income tax. And, get rid of the property taxes that go to the schools. Everybody wins.

  16. Nick Nemec

    Tara speaks the unspeakable, sadly her solution is off the table for the Blue Ribbon Task Force.

  17. larry kurtz

    How 66 county seats and 6 4-year regental universities are either conservative or sustainable remains a mystery.

  18. I just need to make it clear that the Craig above is not me. I’m sure Cory sees the different email address – but I may need to update my moniker to create less confusion.

    As to the issue at hand, I find myself in agreement with Tara here, but as Nick has stated that solution is off the table in this case. We all know anyone who dares suggest an income tax will surely find themselves unelectable, so anyone with visions of higher office won’t bother to even suggest it.

    As to administrator pay – we need to keep in mind in the smaller schools that person with the title of “Superintendent” may also be part time school counselor, substitute teacher, secretary, coach, principle, and even janitor. When you get to a small school system, the lines between official positions are often blurred, so removing that one job title would likley have no discernable difference to the budget because at the end of the day someone needs to perform those duties, and you may find it a lot less expensive to pay one administrator a salary than paying three or four part-time hourly employees to fill the gaps.

  19. Thanks Cory for the insight into my solution. I have heard many ex-teachers give me this solution and it is nice to better understand this four-regional-supes plan restructure idea would only give the teachers about $1000 extra in pay. I know that compared to any other state, SD is always underpaid for any type of job, Superintendents included. But they are less underpaid than our hard working teachers. Or maybe I should state it like this… the Superintendent can live and eat well in SD on their pay whereas a teacher struggles in SD to make ends meet.
    I also agree with Tara, “Restructure our regressive tax system. Time for corporate and personal income tax. And, get rid of the property taxes that go to the schools. Everybody wins.” I just know this state’s politics well enough to not even suggest such a good idea. Sorry for any confusion on the name, Craig. You share a good name with me.

  20. Believe me, Craig, I’d like there to be an easy solution. I just don’t think destructive consolidation does the job. I also fear that getting 147 school districts to not only give up their superintendents but submit their autonomy to a regional official (selected by whom, by the way?) would be politically harder than passing a state income tax to fund teacher pay.


    1. would your four-supe plan include consolidating all school boards into four?
    2. Would your two urban districts be just those current districts, or would you consolidate all of the metro school districts (Brandon, Harrisburg, Tea, Lennox, West Central, etc. in Sioux Falls; Douglas, Meade, Custer, Lead-Deadwood, and other Black Hills schools in Rapid City)?

    You are correct, Craig, that SD school administrators can live well on their salaries while SD teachers cannot. Administrators do a lot of necessary, icky work that, when done right, allows all teachers to focus on teaching. Administration is much less pleasant work, with less interaction with kids and more training necessary in law and management. I can live with administrators getting paid more than teachers, and I can’t envision 4 supes doing the work of 151.

    Of course, if the state got rid of Common Core, the “Smarter Balanced” Tests, and lots of other unnecessary state mandates, there wouldn’t be as much work for administrators to do….