It has been suggested that there is some hesitancy to support the opt-out among some in our community. Please, let me share with you why the opt-out is so vital.
The opt-out will make an additional $6 million available each year for teacher and staff salaries and vital programs. The frustration many have been feeling about the state of our school district is shared. In my days in the State Senate there were too few voices protesting the several ways in which the state aid formula and the property tax valuation system are unfair to Rapid City schools.
It is virtually impossible to expect any relief or assistance in our current crisis from Pierre. There are some interesting possibilities after the 2016 election, but today the opt-out election is the only way to make the desperately needed difference in funding levels in the next few years.
We definitely must fight for changes in Pierre, but there is no immediate hope for that route. One thing that I know for sure from my years in the legislature: if the opt-out fails, that vote will be used against us! The legislative assumption will be, “If they were unwilling to help themselves, the problem must not be all that bad, so why should we do anything?!”
The failure of the opt-out would hurt our schools, our teachers, and the children so badly that it will take many, many years to undo the damage. Without the opt-out we face three serious, perhaps irreversible, damages.
Larger class sizes
First, though we have already made cuts, teaching staff will need to be reduced even more. Those reductions would be unconscionable. If we reduce the staff by 120 teachers, as many knowledgeable friends have told me is a very real prospect, there would be an unmanageable increase in class size, yet without that reduction of 120 teachers the budget would be exceeded by $4 million.
Busing fewer students
On top of that, we’ll have to quit busing for students who live 2.5 to 5 miles from their schools. Imagine what that would do to attendance.
In addition, there would need to be a $1.5 million slash in such programs as sports, music, fine arts, and debate. Many of you know that some years ago there were serious cuts in the music programs that were so serious and required personal intervention on my part. We can’t rely on a private individual to save our schools programs.
Many of you have been disgusted with the administration and do not trust it—I feel the same way—but we are turning the corner. Many of us, working together, will achieve substantial, positive change. Change is now possible in the district’s leadership. You can count on me to help you assure that outcome.
Sioux Falls, which has had an opt-out in place for many years, has a much broader and effective education system than ours. After the opt-out is approved, I will form a team of manager-leaders who support education and travel to Sioux Falls and find out what they are doing to have a better system and compare the use of tax dollars. The opt-out is just the first step, we need to stay committed and continue the work to ensure that our students have a quality education system and teachers have an environment in which they can succeed.
As one who has been “on the barricades” for more local school funding for decades, I’m asking you to set aside those doubts and past grievances and join with me in supporting the opt-out. Stop by campaign headquarters, 1309 West Main Street, to find out how you can help. Even just a couple hours of your time can make a difference.
When we succeed, there is a smart plan, for us to pressure our legislators, our Governor, and the school board to get cracking on even more gains for teachers and students. If we fail, it will be too late, and everyone in our town loses.