SDHSAA Board Members Unhappy with Member Schools’ Voting Power

Regular readers know I’m big on direct democracy. We can’t vote on everything—governments and organizations need governing boards and executives who can make certain decisions without having to call a general election every week. But if an organization can meet once a year and give all of its members a chance to vote, that’s a good thing, right?

Not if you’re Sioux Falls school superintendent Brian Maher. A member of the South Dakota High School Activities Association board of directors, Maher wants to do away with allowing schools to vote on policy at the annual meeting:

Another board member, Sioux Falls superintendent Brian Maher, said all of the directors are elected and they represent their member schools.

“I hope nobody feels like they don’t have a voice, because we are the voice of the member schools,” Maher said.

He said “it makes sense” that superintendents want to know more and to have a committee that looks in-depth at how the money is received and spent by the association.

Maher said he likes the annual meeting because every member school can voice an opinion, but the directors should make the decision.

“I think the vote at the annual meeting should go away,” Maher said. “I think the finance committee should stay in place” [Bob Mercer, “High Schools Might See Authority Reduced at Activities Association’s Annual Meetings,” Rapid City Journal, 2016.08.25].

The vote should go away—may I never find cause to utter those words!

New SDHSAA board chair and Spearfish HS principal Steve Morford agrees with Maher, saying he’d prefer that schools only vote on changes to the SDHSAA constitution.

Bob Mercer notes that this discussion arises from a vote at last April’s SDHSAA annual meeting at which a minority of schools were able to reject an SDHSAA finance committee recommendation to transfer more money to the SDHSAA Foundation. That rejection passed 26–5. The 31 schools present at the annual meeting constitute only 17% of the 181-school membership, but Article V Section 4 of the SDHSAA Constitution says ten schools constitute a quorum. Under that rule, Eureka, Bison, Edgemont, Oldham-Ramona, Rutland, and Henry could show up at an ill-attended SDHSAA meeting and set policy for the other 99% of the SDHSAA student population. Not that I think Eureka or Rutland would propose bad school activities policy, but I can see how democratic legitimacy might require a few more schools to show up and vote.

Perhaps instead of doing away with school votes, the SDHSAA board should consider proposing a change to the quorum rule. If last spring’s decision by 14% of the membership to block the fund transfer displeases the SDHSAA, perhaps it should raise the quorum requirement. Require at least half of the member schools (91 instead of the current 10) to attend the annual meeting.

Doing away with annual votes or increasing the quorum will require the say-so of member schools, who have sole authority to amend the SDHSAA constitution. I’ll wager schools are unlikely to give up their voting power completely, but they could be persuaded to increase the quorum to reduce the chance of being pushed around by an ambitious minority.

South Dakotans elect a Legislature to make laws, but South Dakotans also retain their Legislative power via initiative and referendum. SDHSAA members schools should have a similar relationship with their elected board of directors: the board can make the bulk of decisions, but the members should retain their legislative power with votes at the annual meeting.

5 Responses to SDHSAA Board Members Unhappy with Member Schools’ Voting Power

  1. Nick Nemec

    It all depends on whether or not Charlie Hoffman is representing Eureka at this hypothetical meeting.

  2. I’m sure that Charlie Hoffman would do only the right thing. But the way to solve all problems with SDHSAA is to have weighted voting for school districts based upon the number of students. Then everybody can have their vote, and their vote will be proportionate to their share of the entire SD student base. Let the gnashing of small school teeth begin at the thought of no longer being able to discriminate against Sioux Falls in the allocation of tournaments.

  3. This is a double-edged sword. The small schools can impact activities they don’t always understand. How many times did the speech committee beg for a shift im Sunday competition on a small scale only to be told the small schools would never allow for the change.
    It would be nice to look for ways to include more online participation in voting and make it more convenient to attend.

  4. MLarson is onto something. There are so many factors at work with regard to attendance. We don’t have to travel to meetings to conduct business anymore. I am sure for many, they look at the agenda, like what the board is doing, and decide their time could be more productive dealing with an issue at their school. The only people who show up are the dissatisfied and currently the threshold for them prevailing is low and they might be able to influence despite being a small minority.

    I don’t always agree with the SDHSAA all the time and in fact advocate the Sioux Falls area schools leave and form an interstate conference with Sioux City. But they have a board elected by members and they should be able to do business without threat of being overruled by a vocal small minority.

  5. There is more to this issue than simply a matter of quorums and governance; back in 2014, the SDHSAA voted to increase ticket costs for sporting events by two dollars, with one dollar going directly to the Foundation. This decision was pushed strongly, some would say strong armed, by Wayne Carney, the Executive Director of the SDHSAA. Carney has been in this position for 15 years, and has great influence over the SDHSAA Board whose members serve only a couple of years then leave. Many schools were rightly angered over the decision to divert public ticket sale proceeds to a private foundation, and the vote was a reflection of their displeasure. Rather than prevent schools from voting directly on matters that impact their extra-curricular activities, the influence of a single administrator on these matter needs to be reined in.