Lawmaker, Educators Differ On Teachers' Role At Statehouse

Feb 16, 2016

Teachers from across the state say they’re traveling to Pierre to support education funding, yet not everyone is convinced the move is right. A leading lawmaker and the president of a statewide teachers’ organization have different perspectives on the effect of educators turning up at the Statehouse. Still teachers plan to show up this week for debate in Piere. 

Teachers, students, administrators and other supporters of increasing funding for public schools packed the state House of Representatives gallery last week in Pierre. Some observers were disappointed when lawmakers halted debate on a bill to increase the state sales tax. State Representative Brian Gosch says the reaction depends on your position on the bill.

“Part of their plan, and if you can ask them and find out for sure, was to try to stack the deck, if you will, or try to get as much pressure placed on legislators by having people present. Teachers, administrators coming into the gallery, texting legislators during session, texting them on the floor, waving at them, asking them to come out and talk to them, things like that,” Gosch says. “There’s different tactics each side has on an issue. And the type of lobbying that was going on leading up to that floor debate and who was talking to who, that’s kind of all part of the way that some people try to get bills passed, and so that would be something to ask them.”

We did. Mary McCorkle is president of the South Dakota Education Association.

“So were they there? Yes, certainly they were there. They were there because they care about education and they want to talk to the legislators to share that with them, that this is very important, that South Dakota cares,” McCorkle says. “You know, it’s all about sharing the stories. It’s talking about, ‘This is the impact that I, as a principal, see in my district if we don’t act,’ ‘As a school board member, this is what my district faces.’“

Teachers who took time off of work last week to see lawmakers debate a sales tax hike for education are trying to plan return trips. Kerry Konda is a teacher and debate coach at Aberdeen Central high school. He’s an advocate for higher pay to benefit students considering careers in education. Konda says state leaders acknowledge that South Dakota teachers work for thousands of dollars less than their counterparts in other states.

"I have a summer job that I work at, and I make more money digging holes than I do actually teaching per hour, and I don’t need a college degree for that," Konda says. "I don’t even need a high school degree for that, and I’m getting paid more doing that than at my regular job with a masters degree."

Konda took a day away from his classroom to see the debate in Pierre. He and a gallery full of educators watched as discussion of a sales tax increase began and came to an abrupt end.

"When we headed out to Pierre, and we’re very appreciative of that. But we were very disappointed to stall the vote, and that’s a disservice to the education of South Dakota. We’re advocating to get new teachers into the profession," Konda says.

Konda says it's also to ensure the best possible education for students. The high school teacher says he knows lawmakers can delay the bill again, but he hopes teachers who trek to the Statehouse this week get to see House Bill 1182 on the floor.

"The problem is you can’t keep getting professional days to go out there or even personal days to go out there, because you can only have so many teachers gone from your building per day, so right now the future plans are we have a couple people out on Tuesday for a different activity out there and then Thursday, we are hopefully going to be back again," Konda says.

House Bill 1182 is the funding mechanism for Governor Dennis Daugaard’s plan to infuse money into public schools to raise the average teachers salary in South Dakota. The Blue Ribbon Education Task Force findings prove that the state’s teachers are at least $8,000 out of market compared with surrounding states.