The opt-out is the ONLY immediate solution!!

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.

Programs slashed
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.

5 thoughts on “The opt-out is the ONLY immediate solution!!

  1. I disagree with Stan on this one. $ is not the ONLY immediate solution. Throwing more money at the schools is the PROBLEM. Money stifles innovation. In South Dakota we give education 50% of EVERY dollar the State collects. 60% – 70% of my property taxes go to the school. On top of that Federal Government kicks in another chunk of cash. When I plug my ears as tight as I can, the only thing I can’t block out is the school yelling “I need more money”. Tell me this, compared to who or what is the school short of cash? Almost everyone I know thinks or wishes they had more money. The City would like more dollars. The County won’t turn down more money. Family members and neighbors complain they don’t have enough money. Most of all taxpayers want to keep their money, because they don’t have enough.

    The school doesn’t need more money they need innovation. Throwing money at schools stifles innovation. Creative solutions are not defined as more tax dollars. Creative solutions come from innovators. Necessity is the mother of invention.

    My grandson attends a charter school in another state. His school does not get the funding like the public school gets. Public dollars go mainly to the public schools. The buildings he learns in are dated and would be considered third world compared to most public schools. Parents provide lunch etc.etc. On the surface you would think no one would ever want to attend this charter school, yet there is a waiting list to get in. Why? the kids learn and are well educated by their teachers. Teacher salaries are the largest expense in my grandsons school. Every graduating class in this school has 5-10 times the college scholarships compared to public schools. This equals millions of dollars in scholarships every year!

    The public school system is the overfed non productive elephant in the room. If public schools had to compete for students they would become lean and mean in the race for school enrollment, or go out of business Teachers would get paid and poor teachers would have to find employment elsewhere. Results would be the driver for enrollment.

    School choice, competition for students, will foster innovation. Not throwing more money at the already best funded. When 1/2 of every State dollar – 65% of my property taxes, and Federal dollars lumped in (plus other sources like road fines) — can’t solve the problems what makes anyone think more tax dollars will fix anything?

    The best business models in South Dakota are models of innovation, sacrifice, dedication and hard work (not unlimited tax dollars). School choice will create similar models for educating our kids.

    Bill Freytag

    • The purpose of taxes is to fund things.
      We could all argue how much of our taxes goes to what cause, and thank goodness it does, so we have public services. Guess what? You’re also paying for public schools all across the state because of the inadequate, outdated state funding formula. The “chunk” you describe from the federal government is hardly that. It isn’t enough, and hasn’t been for some time.
      Innovation doesn’t pay teachers. Ideas aren’t immediate. If your answer is charter schools, that takes money, right? How soon until they are built, furnished, and staffed? When was the last time you promoted this idea in Pierre? The creative solutions you speak of, and the “Smarter Solutions” our opposition touts… what are they? When is someone going to name them and speak up about it? It has been deafeningly silent regarding that question, and parents and teachers know better. In the meantime, people are losing jobs and kids are losing opportunities. That’s immediate.
      I’m curious in your statements about charter schools… is the accusation that our teachers DON’T educate our kids well? Is that why the lines are long there? I doubt it. My hunch is that public schools where he lives may noyt have adequate funding, teacher pay, or activities either. The largest expense of the RCAS General Fund is also staff salaries also, which is why $4.5M of each year’s funds will go to improving teacher pay. This won’t be solved by new ideas or creative thinking.
      According to the Dept. of Revenue, your property taxes haven’t been raised for education in 20 years, so you can blame your legislators, Governor and other government bureaucracies for that.
      I think it is offensive to imply that innovation, dedication, hard work, and sacrifice are the answers. Our teachers live and breathe this every single day and it isn’t enough. They need our support, and I am happy to give it.

  2. Those elected to serve in Pierre by in large have NO LOCAL ELECTED GOVT
    They complain about Congressional mandates and they espouse ” Local Government control”. Yet when cities, counties or school deal with budgets, according to Pierre they are spend thrifts and the electorate shows its wisdom in electing them but this same electorate (the same people) shows is “stupidity” when voting for the local government individuals.
    School Brd and Co Comm actually work on and put together budgets.
    Those in the State House DO NOT
    DO A BUDGET ( unless on Appropriations ) they only approve the budget that the Governors minions assembled.
    The point Opt Out is the only way to deal with the property tax caps that are in place.

  3. Imagine 2 engineers on the train that recently derailed in Philadelphia, Pa. One says to the other “we have to slow down or we wont make the bend” and the other replies, “if we slow down we are going to be late”. Make no mistake – there are consequences either way, however, the train wreck caused by approving the opt-out is far worse than the consequences of being “late”.

    Despite the claims of “significant cuts” over the last 5 years RCSD has added about 50 full time positions in the last two years, they even added and administrator this year! – does that sound like “cuts” to you ?

    Despite the incredible increases in our taxes (compared to Sioux Falls) we are broke. The RCSD is one of the “richest” districts in SD based on property taxes. This is inexplicable and inexcusable, our School Board has been very irresponsible in their decisions and now the crisis we face is self inflicted.

    Giving this board more money is not the responsible thing to do. First – and foremost the formula needs to be challenged in court. Second – the teacher’s salary matrix needs to be “compressed”, the high end salaries are out of line with what the RCSD can afford to pay – this keeps the low end salaries low. Third – the RCSD needs to stop adding “ongoing obligations” with “one-time money” like hiring folks that there is no revenue identified to pay them with. Those 50 FTEs the last 2 years along with a loss of 75 students resulted in about 4 million in reserves being wasted.

    Frankly this situation seems like more of a temper tantrum from Dr. Mitchell. He decided to leave years ago, he overspent, over hired, ran down our reserves, put a tax hike on the table, and now says he is leaving.

    Vote your heart, just hide your wallet/checkbook first.

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