PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A bill that inspired backlash from the education community in South Dakota has been pulled by its sponsor, Rep. Bethany Soye (R-Sioux Falls).

HB 1216 elicited criticism from both fellow lawmakers and state organizations such as the South Dakota Education Association.

One of those critics, Sen. Reynold Nesiba (D-Sioux Falls), provided the following statement on the withdrawal of HB 1216, which he had called ‘outrageous.’

I am pleased to see that HB 1216 has been withdrawn. As I said earlier it was disrespectful, unnecessary, hurtful to our K-12 education employees, and would have adversely affected our students and families. Given the amazing work our educational employees have done over the last two years of this pandemic, to propose this—now—shows a disturbing lack of gratitude and appreciation. Perhaps with this bill withdrawn we can work together to address real problems in education? We still are the only state with no early education council, one of few states with no state general funds for early education, our teacher’s average salaries are ahead of only Mississippi, and the Governor has proposed a cost of living adjustment that is below the rate of inflation our educators experienced over the last 12 months. The share of our college students graduating with debt remains number one in the country. We have so many educational issues that need to be addressed. Let’s work together to address these issues and stop debating these divisive and unnecessary bills.

Sen. Reynold Nesiba

Travis Dahle is a teacher at Sioux Falls Jefferson High School, and a member of the South Dakota Education Association. He said he is relieved to see HB 1216 withdrawn. “If you want to hurt education, maybe support [this type of bill], but if you actually want to keep teachers around — then [this legislation] is probably something that should just be a one-time thing.”

Along with his relief, he has a message of warning: “In South Dakota, once an idea is started, it can come back,” he said. Despite this, Dahle says he hopes the educators of the state have gotten their message across.

KELOLAND News spoke with Soye about the withdrawal and replacement for HB 1216 in a phone call Wednesday afternoon. She says that while the new bill deals with a similar issue, it’s much more narrow.

The new bill, HB 1308, is an act to provide for the payment of signing bonuses to school district staff members. The bill states that a school district may offer and pay a signing bonus, moving expenses, or tuition reimbursement to a staff member employed in the school district.

Soye says this legislation is targeted toward non-teaching staff, specifically custodial workers. She says that the new bill will allow the districts to offer signing bonuses without having them approved through collective bargaining. Soye says that under the current law, these bonuses can only be paid in this way to teachers.

Dahle is more understanding of the new bill.

A primary motivation behind this measure, according to Soye is the lack of janitors in the public school system. She argues that such bonuses are needed to incentivize recruitment of workers, such as custodians, who are in high demand.

“I get it from that standpoint,” he said of the desire to be able to offer bonuses. “In fact, we as teachers even agreed to this — it’s part of our contract in Sioux Falls — that the school district has the sole discretion to offer bonuses.”

“Off the bat, I don’t think it’s a terrible idea,” summed up Dahle. “Does it solve the big issues about recruitment and retention in this state? No.”

While Dahle says this isn’t the solution to the issues of education in the state, he says this can serve as a starting point. He isn’t without criticism for the use of bonuses for recruitment though.

“If you have somebody who’s been in the profession for 3 or 4 years, and they’re going a great job — then you have a new person come in because of the new hiring process where you give them a $10,000 bonus — well now they’re making, at least for 3 or 4 years, more than [the worker who’s been there for several years].”

This issue of wage disparity comes in part from a portion of South Dakota law wherein bonuses can be paid in a lump sum after the first year, or in installments over up to a three-year period.

“We want the pay to be equitable,” said Dahle

When it comes to the reason that HB 1216 was withdrawn, Dahle credits pressure from the people of South Dakota. “I think it was pulled because of all the pressure from not just teachers, but community members — I mean I heard from tons of people,” he said. “I think there was enough outrage that [Soye] realized that maybe this was a bad idea.”

Asked whether the backlashed received from HB 1216 factored into her decision to withdraw the bill, Soye did not confirm or deny, saying instead that she’d now had time to consult and hear from different interested groups, and had chosen to instead focus on a more specific topic. She did however note that she had received a large number of calls about the bill.

Soye expressed a belief that the current system of collective bargaining in South Dakota’s education system is a ‘road block’ in the way of securing higher wages for district staff and an impediment to the ability of a district to offer raises.

Asked about the possible perception of her as an ‘anti-union’ legislator, Soye said she prefers to look at it in more positive terms, saying that she wants teachers to be paid as high a wage as possible, and that she was looking to remove bureaucracy that stands in the way.

Soye said she would like to find a way to preserve unions where the relationship between them and the district is working, but said that there are no one-size-fits-all approach. She also casted doubt on the effectiveness of unions in the South Dakota education system, saying that less than half of employees belong to the unions.

Soye an attorney who serves on the House Education Committee, does not have a background in education but said that she is a child and granddaughter of educators, and experienced public, private and homeschooling as she grew up.