Aberdeen teacher Teresa Markley rose at Saturday’s Aberdeen crackerbarrel to ask how Republican legislators could tell us for thirty years that there’s no money to boost teacher pay, then come forward this year to say there is money in the budget for the Blue Ribbon plan. “I really don’t think that the answer is to rob Peter to pay Paul,” said Markley.
Senator David Novstrup (R-3/Aberdeen) acknowledged he’d been dodging specifics in e-mails to Markley. He spent eight minutes trying to explain that state surpluses and other no-tax options could fund teacher pay:
Referring to Bob Mercer’s summary of five plans, Senator Novstrup says Rep. Brian Gosch’s plan is the most viable. Mercer notes that the two plans not raising taxes fail to provide clear funding sources to support competitive teacher pay after this fiscal year. Fidgeting through the papers someone handed him to read, Senator Novstrup says the “overappropriations” are as sustainable for K-12 funding as they are now for social services.
Senator Novstrup says the Governor has “a lot more resources and expertise,” which one would think would mean he would defer to the Governor’s plan over Rep. Gosch’s plan, but Senator Novstrup appeals to that executive expertise to assure us that if the Legislature rejects the Governor’s plan, the Governor will be able to come up with a better plan. Senator Novstrup’s professed lack of expertise does not stop him from assuring us all that “we will make this work… I just have 100% confidence in that” (a banner example of my frustration as an English teacher with speakers who use this and that with unclear antecedents).
After more nervous riffling through his papers, Senator Novstrup then launches into a recitation of declining student numbers and increasing staff numbers. “I’m not saying this is bad, but it’s just interesting data,” says Senator Novstrup. Maybe not bad, but…
When our K-12 enrollment is going down and our staff is going up, it’s an awkward, weird trend that needs to be explained. It just doesn’t make sense, because, and I know education is not business, so don’t take it this way, but if you’re in business and your customers are getting less and less, you have to have less staff because you don’t have the resources to have it. So I’m not saying any teachers should be fired. I’m not saying that, but through retirements we can get to a number that makes sense [Senator David Novstrup, Aberdeen crackerbarrel, 2016.02.20].
David, you are saying the increase in staff is bad. You are saying getting rid of staff would be good. You are saying we need fewer teachers. And to boot, you are saying “customers” are getting less from South Dakota’s schools… but I’ll let SDEA put out the press release correcting you on that issue.
Senator Novstrup emphasizes his desire to cut staff back to 1995 or 1970 levels by saying that a good teacher is the number-one factor in student success:
If you have a good teacher with a larger class size, they can have those kids achieve more than a poor teacher in a very small class. Once again, I’m not saying small-school teachers are bad, but I’m just saying that if you have a great teacher, they can teach more kids in a classroom and achieve more [Senator David Novstrup, Aberdeen crackerbarrel, 2016.02.20].
Learn to when to stop digging, David. The only salvageable, campaign-postcard-ready statement you’re making here is that good teachers matter, and that brings us right back to the whole point of the teacher-pay debate: if South Dakota doesn’t pay competitive wages, South Dakota won’t attract good teachers.
Fortunately, a teacher who was in the classroom in 1970 rose a few questions later to correct David’s fallacious comparison to 1970 education enrollment and staffing levels:
Dropout target rates have changed, required attendance ages have risen, and socioeconomic factors have placed more burdens on the schools. Our public school “customers” really are getting more than they did in 1970. And as I have said, every adult in the school represents additional services and opportunities for our kids. Senator Novstrup, when you are ready to outline the services and opportunities you want to take away from our kids, please share that plan with the voting public. But for now, put your shuffle points away and focus on solving the problem at hand: funding competitive wages to recruit and retain top teachers for South Dakota’s public schools.