Dear Governor Daugaard and members of the South Dakota Legislature,
We are writing you today on behalf of the South Dakota Chapter of the American Choral Directors Association (SD-ACDA) to express our trepidation with the current education reform plan that has been proposed. While we agree with you that the teacher pay system needs to be re-evaluated, we have concerns with the bill that is currently being put forth. It is our view that this system will detrimentally impact all teachers in the South Dakota, but specifically those who educate in the arts.
The merit pay system, as it is currently proposed, would unfairly reward only those teachers in the "core subjects." Specialists, like music, art, and foreign language teachers, physical education instructors, librarians, and special education teachers have no standardized testing. If 50 percent of the merit pay evaluation system is based on quantitative data (test scores), these teachers would find it difficult to qualify for bonuses despite the outstanding work they do with students in South Dakota. Additionally, this system would foster a work environment that is fraught with competition between instructors instead of one which instills collaboration to determine what is best for students.
Providing bonuses math and science teachers sends the wrong message to all other educators in the state. It says to them that while they are doing a great job leading our children, they are just not as important as some other teachers. These math and science instructors will do the same amount of work that all other teachers do, but get paid $8000 more each year simply because of their field of study. As music teachers, many already feel underappreciated. Our classes often meet less, are disrupted, or our students removed for the benefit of the "core subjects."
A college graduate with a math degree can enter the work force with a starting salary exceeding $45,000 a year with the potential for six figure earnings, while the average starting salary for a teacher in South Dakota is less than $27,000. The currently proposed bonus system would, after five years, force math and science teachers to take compensation reduction equal to about one quarter of their salary instead of seeing the gains in the private market. This does not encourage long term commitment to the teaching profession. Money is clearly not the draw.
In the current education plan, teacher tenure is also called into question. Tenure, or continuing contract, is not a right for teachers. It must be earned. What it does provide, is job security as the salary increases. It also establishes a system by which cause for dismissal must be established. Teachers throughout the state are non-renewed each year. What removing tenure might do is allow school districts to balance tight budgets by eliminating excellent veteran teachers who earn more and replacing them with less costly beginning teachers.
As with all reform in education, a major component that must be adequately considered is consistent state funding. The proposal, as it stands now, calls for a substantial increase in state dollars to pay for the evaluation, bonuses, and increased standardized testing. The fear would be that this financial support would at some point be eliminated in a cost saving measure, as happened last year. If this became a reality, would school districts be required to continue to fund the program despite the loss in state aid? This could again cause crippling results to the school budgets and force another round of drastic program cuts.
The education system in South Dakota is not broken. What does need to be repaired is the status of teachers throughout the state and the morale of a defeated vocation. These professionals have been told by non-educators for years that they are not good enough both in words and actions through policy change, funding reductions, and rhetoric. Now is not the time to foster competition. It is not the time to create a hierarchy of importance. It is not the time to further the environment that devalues the teaching profession. Instead, it is time to recognize these individuals for the heroes they truly are.
Dr. David Holdhusen
and Mary Beth Kelly
South Dakota Chapter