S.D. regents set process for review of state’s public universities that lawmakers ordered

Capitol News Bureau
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PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The South Dakota Board of Regents agreed Wednesday to put a new strategic plan on hold and focus on a system-wide review that the Legislature directed be done.

The regents must have a report to the governor and lawmakers no later than November 15, 2021.

Brian Maher, who started last month as the board’s executive director, said Senate Bill 55 is an opportunity.

Maher, who previously was Sioux Falls K-12 school district’s superintendent, spoke with the four lawmakers representing the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Appropriations on the task force.

They are Republican Senator Ryan Maher of Isabel, who sponsored the bill; Democratic Senator Reynold Nesiba of Sioux Falls; Republican Representative Chris Karr of Sioux Falls; and Republican Representative Hugh Bartels of Watertown.

 “I promised them this would not just be a matter of checking the box and getting Senate Bill 55 off our desk,” executive director Maher said.

He chose three regents and the heads of three campuses to lead subcommittees.

Regent Jim Thares of Aberdeen and University of South Dakota President Sheila Gestring will look at administration.

Regent Joan Wink of Howes and Black Hills State University President Laurie Nichols will look at academic programs.

Regent Barb Stork of Dakota Dunes and South Dakota State University President Barry Dunn will look at infrastructure and related programs.

Executive director Maher plans to chair the panel. He asked regents to send recommendations of other people in the coming days to consider as possible members.

The legislation said the task force should have at least 11 members, including the lawmakers.

The group’s first meeting will coincide with the regents’ meeting October 7-8 in Rapid City. Executive director Maher said the initial steps would look at the system’s history and provide a sense of the vision for the future, including a perspective from someone outside the system.

The second meeting would be in November and set the focus and goals for the subcommittees.

The group would meet again in April after the 2021 legislative session, with a fourth meeting in May to discuss the subcommittees’ work, and a fifth meeting in June to draw the information together.

Executive director Maher said he’d like a draft report ready before November. He wants the task force to be “fully functional” in the next two weeks.

“You’re going to be a busy group. That’s a condensed timeline,” regent Randy Schaefer of Madison said. “It’s a lot of work to do in a short time.”

Regent Kevin Schieffer of Sioux Falls said the “touchy subject” of combining institutions should be addressed.

Stork said the size of the central office is an issue that should be discussed. Schieffer agreed. “It keeps coming up. Address it,” Schieffer said. “Get the facts out there.”

Stork said the new Title IX protocol is an example of where one strong person in the central office might be preferable to individuals at each of the six main campuses.

Regents president John Bastian of Belle Fourche called the review plan “a really great outline.”

“If you think I’m dancing around the edges of issues, make sure I’m not,” Maher told the board. “That’s part of the opportunity I talked about.”

Jay Perry, the system vice president for academic affairs, presented results of the strategic plan that was written in 2014 to run through 2020.

He said the regents, universities and special schools met five goals, were headed in the right direction on 10 that weren’t yet reached, and stayed the same or went backward on five.

Among those without progress was remediation: 29.7% of first-time full-time students needed at least one remedial class in English or math during the past academic year, compared to 26.6% in 2014.

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