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February 23, 2012 04:52 PM

Educ. Committee Changes Controversial Bill

Pierre, SD


Thursday, the Senate Education Committee passed an amended education bill that has caused much debate. Certain bonus provisions have changed and getting rid of continued contracts, or tenure, has been delayed.

House Bill 1234 has had plenty of opposition from the very start. But Mitchell Superintendent Joe Graves said the only way to improve student achievement is to have great teachers and he thinks the bill would motivate schools to do just that.

“What that means is you need to hire the best, you need to improve the ones you have and you need to remove marginal teachers and this bill deals with all three of those needs,” Graves said.

Pierre lawyer Richard Tieszen was in committee speaking on behalf of the Sioux Falls School District. He agrees great teachers are needed, but said giving bonuses to only a certain few isn’t the right way to do it.

“South Dakota is 50th in rank.  50th in our teacher pay. Do you think that would poise you well to go out and hire quality teachers? Do think that leaves you as an administrator well poised to keep quality teachers? I don’t think it does either,” Tieszen said.

As amended, the bill would now set up a scholarship program for college students going into needed teaching positions. It would also give math and science teachers the chance at a $2,500 annual bonus. It’s something USD’s School of Education Dean Rick Melmer supports.

“Bottom line is I think our younger educators moving into the profession are going to expect to be compensated if they go above and beyond the call of duty and want to receive some additional compensation for that,” Melmer said.

Nearly everyone can agree on the premise of this legislation: better teachers equal better students. But what they don’t agree on is how to do it and the time in which it’s being done.

“It seems like we’re making this up as we go and that scares me a little bit. It’s changing so fast on something that's so big that it looks like all we want to do is create a change,” Harrisburg superintendent Jim Holbeck said.

Many speaking in opposition said they would like to see some sort of a study group set up with those in the education field to dig into this bill and re-visit it later.

Another amendment would also phase out continued contracts or tenure by 2016 instead of this summer. Schools would still have the option to give $5,000 bonuses to the top 20 percent of teachers, opt out of that program or create their own.
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