Governor Dennis Daugaard’s choice of only two teachers for his 26-member Blue Ribbon Task Force on Teachers and Students suggests that he’s still mad at us teachers for killing his only big education reform proposal, 2012’s House Bill 1234. Having licked his wound for three years, he is perhaps ready to make war on teachers again with the proposals he will extract from his rigged task force.
One part of the 1234 agenda I would expect the Governor to resurrect is his push to end “continuing contract,” mistakenly called “tenure”. Continuing contract is the labor protection enjoyed by teachers who have worked in a school district for more than three consecutive years. Schools can fire any teacher for just cause at any time. However, if a school chooses not to renew a teacher’s contract for the coming school year, a teacher who has served the district for more than three years (i.e., has previously received the board’s stamp of approval via four formal contracts) is entitled to a written explanation of that decision, a hearing before the school board (see SDCL 13-43-6.2).
Governor Daugaard and some Republican legislators have targeted continuing contract because of their mistaken belief that South Dakota’s scanty labor protections make it too hard to fire bad teachers. Getting rid of continuing contract would actually be bad for teachers and schools.
Governor Daugaard may hate continuing contract as much as the rest of us hate seeing a generation of the lowest teacher pay in the nation culminating in a teacher shortage.
So let’s compromise. Blue Ribboneers, here’s the sole passable policy proposal you may need to “meaningfully fund” our K-12 schools:
We give up continuing contract for one year, 2020. That spring, school boards may clear the decks and open every certified teaching position for new applicants. No teacher, first-year, fourth-year, or fortieth-year, may take non-renewal to a grievance hearing. Schools may allow the non-renewed teachers to re-apply for their positions, in competition with all outside applicants, and prioritize those veteran re-applicants as they wish. In 2021, we restore fourth-year-and-beyond continuing contract protections for all teachers, with all years of service prior to and including the 2020 and 2021 school years counting toward continuing contract protection as if the 2020 suspension had never happened.
Essentially, we pass, not a sunset clause, but an “eclipse clause,” declaring SDCL 13-43-6.2 and the relevant clauses of SDCL 13-43-6.1 and SDCL 13-43-6.3 null and void from March 1, 2020 to September 15, 2020.
The 2020 eclipse of continuing contract happens only on three conditions:
- By March 1, 2020, the South Dakota Legislature passes a per-student allocation of at least $7,000 (or whatever amount is necessary to make possible condition #3);
- Through fiscal years 2017—2020, the Legislature shall adjust the Cutler-Gabriel formula to ensure that state funds provide the balance of funding prescribed by the per-student allocation above the per-student allocation that would have accrued by Fiscal Year 2021 based on 2% annual increases.
- The average teacher K-12 teacher salary in South Dakota, as reported by all public school districts in South Dakota by October 1, 2019 in their FY2020 contracts, is at least $60,000.
- The average South Dakota K-12 teacher salary last year was $40,023.
- Raising that average to $60,000 requires giving every South Dakota teacher $19,977.
- South Dakota has 9,208 K-12 teachers.
- Multiply: raising our average teacher pay to $60,000 would require $183,948,216.
- South Dakota has 128,294 K-12 students.
- Divide: reaching $60,000 per teacher would cost $1,434 per student.
- This year’s per-student allocation is $4,876.76.
- Add: making South Dakota’s teacher salary $60,000 right now would require a per-student allocation of $6,310.56.
- Inflation: increasing that per-student allocation 2% each year, as we did this year, would produce an FY 2021 per-student allocation of $6,697.37.
Maybe I’m giving away the farm by sacrificing an essential labor protection for even one year just to satisfy the mistaken Scott-Walker-esque (that’s redundant) thinking of Governor Daugaard and the SDGOP. But imagine for a moment what a $60K teacher salary would do for South Dakota’s teacher labor market. If I’m right (heck, if capitalism is right), low pay is keeping South Dakota schools from attracting top talent. If the Governor and his party are right, continuing contract is keeping administrators and school boards from getting rid of bad teachers and hiring better teachers. If either or both of us are right, this plan is a gold rush for teachers and school boards.
So who’s willing to trade horses and make sausage?