Teachers and administrators across the state are sounding off on the latest education bill making its way through Pierre. One of most contested pieces of House Bill 1234 is eliminating teacher tenure.
Tenure has been a part of education in South Dakota for more than half a century. Some educators feel it's much more than a tradition, it's a way for them to be on the leading edge of the classroom. The other side wants accountability to be brought forward.
Dean of the School of Education at USD Rick Melmer said he, too, signs a yearly contract. If he doesn't meet expectations, his job could be on the line.
"I recognize that I have to do a good job to keep my job. And I think that's what the Governor's message is here. If you want to keep your job, you simply need to do a good job," Melmer said.
Mitchell Superintendent Joe Graves, agrees with Melmer. While he said tenure in South Dakota is not as rigid as in other states, it's does not create an unhealthy environment in schools.
"If they attempt to terminate a tenured teacher it will have a negative impact on staff relations, that it may involve hearing and lawsuits in which they're made out to be the villain, and worst of all it might not get done," Graves said.
Representative Jim Bolin sits on the other side of this issue. While he's now in Pierre, he also has 32 years of teaching behind him. Tenure is something he said teachers simply can't do without.
"Teachers in many South Dakota schools often teach their own children, such as I did, those of colleagues and those of prominent members of the community. They must have the freedom after a probationary period to act freely and professionally in dealing with students," Bolin said.
Mitchell Middle School math teacher, Pat Moller, is South Dakota's 2012 teacher of the year. He said if it wasn't for taking risks and trying new things in the classroom, that award wouldn’t be on his wall. With out tenure, he feels those risks wouldn't have been worth taking. Even voicing his opinion might not have been a very good idea.
“The last thing Id like to say is please don't get rid of due process rights. I think I’m right now speaking directly in opposition of my superintendent back there, I’m not sure how we still stand, Dr. Graves you still in here, but I’m here because I have this protection,” Moller said.