by Lorraine Collins
When I was a kid and went to Saturday matinees at the local movie theater, there was often a serial just before the feature, and these usually had cowboys exchanging gunfire. Frequently, just before the episode ended, the hero would be shot off of his horse, so we had to go back the following week to see what happened. At the beginning of the next episode, he'd pick himself up, dust himself off and say, "It was just a graze." That's how I feel about the Legislature this year. They didn't actually kill us all off, but the crease in our skulls might be slightly deeper than a graze.
Yet, it could have been worse. The only bill dealing with abortion this year just made some revisions in the bill passed last year, apparently in the hope to make it more defensible in court. Women and girls seeking an abortion are still required to go to a "pregnancy center" for "counseling", but now counselors have to be "licensed." The bill does not say licensed by whom, or what the licensing requirements are.
Teachers, firemen, and other public employees dodged a bullet when HB 1261, which would have prohibited collective bargaining by public employees, had a short life. Senator Stan Adelstein of Rapid City first proposed this but later he decided this was not a good idea, and said so. Senator Tom Nelson of Lead also abandoned a bill he had thought of introducing, exempting casinos in Deadwood from the smoking ban. It's always a good thing when Legislators realize that the Legislative session just isn't long enough to accommodate every idea that comes to them in the middle of the night or is proposed by a special interest group.
Nelson chalked up a victory for gambling, though, when he got the Legislature to raise limits in Deadwood casinos to $1,000 from $100. I can remember when limits were $5 and folks said that our cozy little historic town would not try to compete with Las Vegas.
By far, the most controversial bill this year was HB 1234, introduced on behalf of the governor, who decided that he had a swell idea for improving education in South Dakota's public schools. This included eliminating "tenure" for teachers and offering thousands of dollars in bonuses for teachers who were in the top 20% of teachers in their schools, as measured by some method yet to be determined. Other bonuses would go to those who taught math or science. This was such an unpopular idea among teachers, school boards, administrators and the general public that the bill was argued about and amended several times. The bill that was finally cobbled together included scholarships for college students who promise to teach for five years in "critical needs areas", not just math or science, and offered some options for local school districts.
I heard a commentator on TV say that she thought the governor wanted to have a "legacy" and that's why he embarked on "educational reform". Personally, I think a great legacy would be to increase all teachers' salaries and lift us from the humiliating position of ranking last of the 50 states in terms of what teachers are paid. Coming up with money for bonuses for a few teachers and leaving the others at the bottom of the barrel doesn't sound like a good idea to me. School boards still cannot count on a sustained level of support from one year to the next, so they continue to cut budgets, drop courses, and lay off teachers.
But one of the more troublesome things about HB 1234 as far as I'm concerned is the provision that will end the "continuing contract" as is current practice in South Dakota. After this is eliminated, any teacher, regardless of how long she or he has been in a school system, can be fired and the administrator is "not required to give further process or reason for non renewal."
Due Process is one of the basic tenets of our Constitution. Due Process has been called "The Shield of the People" and it is also a shield for teachers who are professionals, who have chosen this career not just to make a living, but to make a difference.
Lorraine Collins is a writer who lives in Spearfish. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.