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Senate Committee Passes School Start Date Bill

March 3, 2014, 4:58 PM by Erich Schaffhauser

Senate Committee Passes School Start Date Bill

The school start date debate continues in Pierre.  A Senate committee passed a bill addressing the issue Monday. The bill has already passed through the House.

Lawmakers have heavily amended the bill from its original version.  Both supporters and opponents of the original bill spoke in support of its newest version Monday.

"When the bill was originally introduced it would have attempted to set the date for school to begin on a statewide basis. We oppose that. It's a matter of local control," Richard Tieszen said, representing Associated School Boards of South Dakota.

Tieszen supports the bill that passed in a Senate committee Monday. It lets a school board decide when its district's school year should start.

If people want to challenge the board decision and bring it to a public vote, the bill would require them to gather the signatures of five percent of the total number of voters who cast ballots in the last general election. Right now, they'd need five percent of all registered voters in the district.

"This makes it so that it's at least possible to get that decision on the ballot. It's not necessarily easy but it makes it possible," Michele Brich, executive director of South Dakota Hotel and Lodging Association, said.

Brich supports a later start date because it extends the travel season later into the summer. She, too, supports this bill.

But Sen. Dan Lederman, Republican of Dakota Dunes, says superintendents in his district have approached him with concerns.

"Their concern was that the bill had no timelines for the petition," Lederman said.

So voters could request a new start date close to the beginning of a school year, causing administrators to scramble changing the calendar. But bill sponsor Rep. Christine Erickson, Republican of Sioux Falls, says state law would require people to submit a petition within 20 days of the school start date announcement.

Erickson also acknowledged that if parents petition and vote against a start date chosen by the school board that same board would get to decide the alternative date. She's hopeful members would work with the public on a compromise rather than simply setting the start date one day later.

"It allows the parents to have an active role while keeping the integrity of local control still within the school boards," Erickson said.

This bill only addresses the issue of a start date. Sen. Craig Tieszen, Republican of Rapid City, said in the future he'd like to see the voting policy cover other school board issues as well.

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