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SF School Leader Optimistic About Edu. Plan

Kealey Bultena
Sioux Falls School District superintendent Brian Maher

The leader of the state’s largest school district says South Dakota has an opportunity to restore value to careers in education. Governor Dennis Daugaard is set to reveal his vision for school funding during Tuesday afternoon's State of the State address. One education leader says the Governor’s proposal is more than a spending plan.

Sioux Falls Public Schools superintendent Brian Maher says last year’s Blue Ribbon Task Force helps the state define its problems with education funding. He says the governor has an opportunity to provide a market adjustment to put South Dakota school funding close to neighboring states – and make the changes sustainable.

“And I don’t think the governor puts in as much time, as much energy, and as much resources as he has unless he wants to doing something meaningful,” Maher says.

Maher says "something meaningful" includes new money for education. He says shifting dollars from capital outlay projects to the general fund isn’t enough to solve a major challenge in recruiting and retaining talented teachers: money.

"I mean, that’s an option. That’s a reality. What if there’s no new money? I don’t know how we can expect anything to change," Maher says. "In fact, I would think the whole idea of value would get worse. We’ve put a significant amount of time and resources into studying this issue, and at this point the issue is what it is. So now that we know the issue, we’ve studied the issue, if we wouldn’t address the issue, I think that would just diminish what value that we place on education currently."

"Money is a big piece of that, but it's not the only piece."

Some lawmakers consider freeing up capital outlay funds for salaries to be new money for teacher pay. Maher says schools need additional funding to allow districts to compete with neighboring states.

Maher says the governor has a chance to inspire people to respect education as a worthy profession.

“Money is a big piece of that, but it’s not the only piece,” Maher says. “It’s the value as a society that you place on anything. Nobody questions the value that we place on doctors, nor should they, in my opinion. Nobody [questions] the value that we place on attorneys; while there may be jokes, nobody questions the value. I would like to get to the point where, when you talk about valuing professions, that educators are seen with the same value.”

Maher says balancing education funding with other social needs – and finding equitable ways to deliver money to schools of different sizes – is a huge endeavor. Maher says he remains anxious but optimistic.