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Friday, February 29, 2008

Madison Central School Board Election: The Conversation

Let's start the conversation now. In case you're new here, my name is Cory Allen Heidelberger. I'm running for a seat on the Madison Central School Board. I've been writing this blog, The Madville Times, for a couple years now. I've always had a keen interest in education. You'll find a lot of posts about education here, and I'm sure I'll write some more as the election approaches. Your questions and comments are welcome on any of them*.

But here's an open post for anyone with any questions or comments about our school district and the school board election. Use the comments link at the bottom of this post to...

  1. Ask me where I stand on a particular education issue;
  2. Tell me where you think I should stand on a particular education issue;
  3. Ask about, propose, and discuss goals and directions for the Madison Central School District in the coming years.

And hey, it's not just about me. Jay, Paul, Tammy Jo -- everybody's welcome here. Students, teachers, taxpayers, voters, jump on in!

Your input, your inquiries, your inspirations: add them to the conversation! Let's talk and test ideas and set the course for the future of the Madison Central School District.

Update 2008.03.13: Chuck Clement of the Madison Daily Leader has sent out the following questionnaire to the four school board candidates:

  1. The Madison Central School Board is currently reviewing its trimester schedule. Do you feel the district should continue with class schedules in this format, or should scheduling change to a semester format?
  2. A committee proposed the construction of a new gymnasium at the high school in 2007. The voters rejected funding plans for this project. Do you feel a new gym is necessary for the district? If not, why? If so, how would funding be accomplished?
  3. The state will require mandatory kindergarten by 2010. What are your thoughts on districts eventually being required to offer preschool as a mandatory requirement?
  4. A Sioux Falls elementary school recently proposed teaching Spanish as the primary language to children in elementary classes [actually an elementary foreign language immersion program at Rosa Parks Elementary]. Is this something you would advocate for the Madison school district?
  5. Do you feel there's a need to change the district's current disciplinary policy [see MHS Student Handbook, MMS Student Handbook, Elementary Student Handbook, District Policy Manual]? If so where?
  6. The newest challenge facing the Madison Central School District, and surrounding districts for that matter, is finding the necessary funding to sustain the AIM High alternative school. This program has historically been partially funded by the South Dakota Department of Labor, but that agency recently announced that funding is being pulled for the next fiscal year. With budgets being an ever-pressing concern, how will districts find the resources to fully fund this program?

MDL plans to publish the candidates' responses the week of the 24th. I'm preparing my answers -- what are yours? Where do you voters stand on these questions? And are there any big questions Clement has missed?

*Comments are open to everyone. Really. I will not delete your comment just because you disagree with me or encourage people to vote for someone else. But the standard Madville Times rules of engagement apply. Be vocal, be passionate, and be neighborly.

Madison School Board Election: Four Go In, Two Come Out... or Maybe Three...

...not quite Thunderdome...

And we're off! We have four candidates for the Madison Central School Board: Jay Niedert, Tammy Jo Zingmark, Paul Weist, and me. No incumbents! All four of us filed for the two three-year positions. Therefore, on April 8 (mark your calendars!), Madison Central School District voters, you'll get to pick two of us four to help set policy and budget for the schools.

No one applied for the third open seat, which is a two-year term. That seat will not appear on the ballot: the board will appoint someone to that seat. Now last year the board made the appointment to the open seat in June. I would assume (there I go again) that the board has no solid timeframe for the appointment, other than probably wanting to pick someone by July, when the two newly elected members will be sworn in and Gwen Thomson's term officially comes to an end.

The obvious question: whom will the board pick? The logical and most politically legitimate choice would be the third-place finisher in April 8's election. Then again...

Well, gentle readers, feel free to submit your own amusing post-election appointment scenarios. But first things first: we have a school board election! Yahoo! Jay, Paul, Tammy Jo, drop by the blog any time. Let's talk education and the future!

Technology Takes Over the Classroom

...hey, it's KELO's headline, not mine. The Senate may have killed increased funding for laptops (though the session ain't over yet), but Smart boards, iPods... they're everywhere! Aaaahhh!

LAIC Housing Study: Yours for Only $350 a Copy

Monday I posted the executive summary of the Lake Area Improvement Corporation's housing study. I'm still eager to see the final report itself, but as far as I know, there's been no sign of that document online or at the public forum LAIC hosted last week to roll out some of the results.

Last Friday I contacted the LAIC through their website to ask when copies of the full housing study would be available. I received a very prompt reply from Kari Blom, the LAIC administrative assistant:

Thank you for contacting this office regarding your request. A hard copy should be available after our March committee meeting. The estimated cost per copy is anticipated to be between $250-350. [Kari Blom, e-mail, 2008.02.22]

$250-$350? My fancy-schmancy DSU textbooks don't even cost that much.

Naturally, I replied:

Given that this study was funded in part with tax dollars (unless I'm mistaken -- please correct me if necessary), will members of the public have the opportunity to check out copies of the report free of charge? Will the information in the report be considered proprietary material, or will media outlets be able to distribute information from it? [CAH, e-mail, 2008.02.22]

No reply yet. Maybe Ms. Blom is on vacation. I'll keep watching my inbox. In the meantime, maybe you, gentle and enlightened readers, could provide some answers:
  1. Is the housing study a confidential and/or proprietary document for the eyes of only a few?
  2. Can a quasi-public entity charge any fee for a study it commissions about public matters?
  3. Why would copies of this study by Community Partners Research cost so much when other agencies have posted similar CPR studies on the Web, for free for everyone to read?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Goeman Confirms: Not Running for School Board

An earlier blog post referring to campaign-trail scuttlebutt that a couple of our incumbent school board members may be looking to run again and keep their seats. One of those incumbents, Rod Goeman, e-mails me and states quite clearly that he is not seeking another term on the Madison Central School Board. Says this avowedly outgoing board member:

My current school board term expires in July and I will not seek another term. The opportunity to work with so many wonderful people and represent our District is a fantastic learning experience and I encourage others to serve. It is very gratifying to see the growth and accomplishments that are taking place every day in our schools. I am proud to have been part of that the past 11 years [Rod Goeman, personal communication, 2008.02.28].

There you have it! Goeman is definitely not running. The other 5700 of you eligible candidates in the District have until tomorrow 5 p.m. to make your decision. :-)

Election Alert: School Board Race More Complicated Than We Thought!

I filed my petitions for the school board race this afternoon, so I'm in, as is Jay Niedert.

"So," I said to Cindy Callies, the school district business manager, "do we have a race yet?"

"If we get one more," she replied.

Wait a minute -- we've got three seats available, two people filed... we still need two more to need an election, right?

Surprise! There are three seats available, but two are three-year terms and one, the one Gwen Thomson was appointed to last year, is just a two-year term. Your petition specifies which term you are seeking, the three-year or the two-year. Jay and I have both filed for the three-year. If the third circulator (rumor getting to me says it's Tammy Jo Zingmark) files for the three-year term, we have an election. The voters get the top two, and the school board still appoints a person of their choosing for the two-year term (or at least the next year of that term).

Make sense? Try this one: Suppose two more people file petitions, and both file for the two-year term. Then we'd have an election, but only between those two people, and Jay and I, the only two seeking the three-year term, join the board unopposed.

So those of you still circulating petitions... well, first of all, drop me a line, give the Madville Times the scoop! Then check your petition, make sure you know which length term you're running for.

By the way, if there is an election, Cindy Callies will conduct the drawing for order of names on the ballot Monday morning, March 3, 8 a.m., in her office. The petition filing deadline is 5 p.m. tomorrow, Friday. Since the Leader won't publish until Monday afternoon, and KJAM's crack news staff will all be occupied covering the big Friday basketball games, there may be no public notice of whether there will be a ballot order drawing until after the drawing has happened. Cindy's advice: call her office at 5:01 p.m. tomorrow.

Fellow candidates, that number is 256-7710. If it's busy, be patient: I won't keep Cindy on the line long.

Rounds Loses Abdallah's Vote... and Who Else's?

Senator Gene Abdallah is on SDPB Dakota Midday, and he is making a pretty stern last-ditch argument for restoring the $2 million Governor Rounds has cut from the Highway Patrol budget. Party loyalty be darned, he's letting Governor Rounds have it with every argument he can pull out. Among Abdallah's points:
  1. Abdallah says Governor Rounds came to the legislature five years ago and asked for three years of subsidy for the State Fair. Says Abdallah, the governor said that if the State Fair didn't turn things around in three years, they could pull the plug. We're in year 5 of the subsidy, which Abdallah says he didn't vote for.
  2. Abdallah questions why the Governor can tell the Legislature to watch the bottom line, but then let's a huge deficit in the gas tax collections sneak up on him.
  3. Abdallah criticizes the state's purchases of expensive airplanes.

Governor Rounds has apparently lost a lot of support from the law enforcement community. He's exerting a lot of energy criticizing school superintendents in their hometown papers -- just icing on the bitter cake for educators who already have enough reason to oppose the Governor. Just curious -- what happened to that really nice smiley guy who beat mean old Barnett and Kirby? And is this the kind of political momentum a potential GOP challenger to Tim Johnson wants to have?

Roadkill Always Good for a Laugh, Even in Legislature

I could scold the Legislature for joking around when there's so much unfinished business, but even our elected officials deserve a good laugh. Jeremy Fugleberg, the man powering the Watertown Public Opinion's Newsmonger blog, catches this bit of wit on the AP wire from Senator Nancy Turbak Berry (D-5/Watertown):

Sen. Nancy Turbak Berry, D-Watertown, wondered what would happen if the Senate simply killed the roadkill bill.

“If we kill it, do we just leave it lie here?” she asked, drawing guffaws from her colleagues.

Roadkill -- always good for a laugh. Now back to those funding bills....

State Senate Halts Expansion of Classroom Laptop Program

Also online at KELOLand.com!

I'm not sure if this is just political brinksmanship by State Senate Minority Leader Scott Heidepriem, but if it is, it got the South Dakota Senate's overwhelming approval 33-2: yesterday the Senate cut $2.95 million from HB 1087, the General Appropriations Act. That $2.95 million was intended for general fund operating expenses on the "Technology in Schools" line of the Department of Education budget, which KELO gives us to understand is the money Governor Rounds wanted to expand the classroom laptops program.

Echoing the Madville Times, Senator Heidepriem says that money "should be used instead to boost state aid to schools" [AP's words, "Senate Cuts Money for Student Laptops," KELOLand.com, 2008.02.27]. Indeed, if money is tight (if?!), we have to make the best use of it. And we can find at least a dozen better uses for that state money than pouring it into subsidies for Gateway (which, now owned by Acer, laid off 130 South Dakota workers after promising in October that there would be no layoffs).

But consider: this budget cut doesn't have to mean the end of laptops in the classroom. Right now the state's "Classroom Connections" program pays only one third of the cost of Gateway's $1200 tablet PCs (the kind with the fancy swivel screens you can write on electronically with a stylus). The participating districts (including Madison Central), pay the remaining two thirds of the cost, or $800 per computer.

A year and a half ago, I bought my current laptop, an HP dv5000 for $600. Sure, there's no fancy swivel screen or stylus, but it handles DSU's doctoral program just fine. The schools who are looking to buy laptops for their students could get a fair amount of computer, software, and support for $800 a pop and not need a penny from the state. Why wait for the Senate or Governor Rounds to chip in money to help you buy more computer than you need? Head down to Radio Shack, place a bulk order that will put a big smile on your local dealer's face, and off you go.

Now there's still a debate about whether spending all this money on laptops actually improves education. With all the rules and restrictions the schools place on the computers they issue, kids might be better off with computers they or their parents buy themselves (remember the free market?). If kids had their own computers, they'd be able to tinker with them at will and really learn how the machines work.

But if we want the schools to buy the laptops, Senator Heidepriem's frugality need not stop us. Let's look past the glossy pages of Gateway's catalog and focus on getting a better deal on basic machines that still have all the functionality our kids and teachers really need for the classroom.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

SDPB Getting Snappier...

Best news quote of the night:

"The roadkill bill has gone belly up before the South Dakota Senate."

--Cory Klumper, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, 2008.02.26, 6 p.m. radio broadcast.

Scapegoating Won't Bring Children Back...

...but if we're going to lay blame...

Dakota Today's Douglas Wiken and I have corresponded in a gentlemanly fashion on a number of issues. It is thus with some hesitation that I question part of his commentary on the Cottonwood, MN, bus crash that killed four children:

Cottonwood, Minnesota is reaping the wonders of diversity and a porous border. An illegal alien driving so fast through a stop sign that when she hit railroad tracks went airborne apparently. Flew through the air and crashed into the side of a schoolbus high enough up on the bus that it rolled on its side tipping unto a pickup truck coming from the opposite direction. Four young children were killed and a dozen or so injured..some seriously.

Aliens and immigrants are now expressing concern that this might generate backlash. My guess is the parents of the dead children hope so... [Douglas Wiken, "Sue the Federal Government for Failing to Control Borders," Dakota Today, 2008.02.26].

Attentive readers know that I'm no diversity hawk, and no law-abiding citizen can be in favor of illegal immigration. But Doug's first sentence and the tone of the entire post bug me. Wishing backlash on immigrants? Eesh. That smells of illogic, of scapegoating, of outright xenophobia.

I understand and agree with a fair portion of Doug's argument. He faults the Bush Administration for failing to implement a serious border security policy. He criticizes the wealthy folks who hire illegal immigrants as cheap labor. He wags his finger at our desire for cheap lettuce and tomatoes that can only be harvested and sold at those low prices thanks to the illegal immigrants whom the corporate farmers take advantage of.

But to link Olga Marina Franco's act of vehicular homicide (that's the formal charge) with the politics of diversity and immigration policy is a stretch. The "invading hordes," as Doug refers to them, are not responsible as a group for the death of those four Minnesota children. We have enough reason -- the law -- to deport the illegal immigrants in our midst. To portray them all as irresponsible threats to our safety is unnecessary scapegoating, no more sensible than discriminating against all ex-governors, or all teenagers.

Doug continues:

It all reminded a Sioux Falls family of their husband and father who was killed by another illegal alien who arrogantly disregarded stop signs and speed limits. Arrogant disregard for our borders is followed with arrogant disregard for our driving laws and language. I guess "STOP" is not in the vocabulary of illegal aliens [Wiken, 2008.02.26].

Again, the desire to cast illegal immigrants as scapegoats -- complete with an anti-foreigner slur tied to language -- leads Doug to what feels like a bad mash-up of ad hominem, hasty generalization, and post hoc ergo propter hoc. A career as attorney general, governor, Congressman, as a man deeply involved with the creation and enforcement of laws, did not temper Bill Janklow's leadfoot arrogance. Artyom Koval's family immigrated here legally from Ukraine, but he still raced down Sycamore Avenue at 100 miles per hour, and killed himself, killed Ashleigh, and almost killed at least two other people. Linking arrogant driving to illegal immigration is at least a logical stretch, if not a flat wrong and thinly disguised swipe at foreigners.

Understand that I'm not taking issue with the general policy position that Doug stakes out. The government has an obligation to secure the borders, and the government is doing a rotten job of fulfilling that obligation. The government needs to get serious about controlling illegal immigration.

But where Doug suggests the families of the children injured or killed in this crash sue the federal government for failing to control the borders, I suggest another approach. If blame is to be thrown anywhere beyond Olga Marina Franco -- and please, don't throw it at everyone who speaks Spanish -- perhaps the families should file suit against the employers, the red-blooded, flag-waving American citizens who give jobs to Olga and her boyfriend and 12 million other illegal immigrants. If we want to generalize, these employers who get rich by breaking the law and paying people less than what their work is worth are a much greater threat to the integrity of our country than any illegal immigrant.

It's tempting to blame others for our problems. But the people driving this problem aren't just the illegal immigrants who don't look or talk like us. They aren't just those darn politicians way off in Washington. They are people who look just like us, who run businesses in our communities, who go to our Chamber meetings and fly their flags... and break the law to make a buck.

Waiting for PUC Ruling on TransCanada

Speaking of eminent domain, let's not forget that the PUC should be coming out with its ruling on the TransCanada pipeline any day now. In case Gary, Steve, and Dusty are still thinking about their ruling, here's some commentary from Sunday's Aberdeen American News, reminding us that TransCanada has demonstrated a pretty rotten sense of corporate neighborliness so far:

At its root level, the TransCanada Keystone Pipeline project has elements that we find attractive. Responsibly done, this pipeline, which could daily transport up to 530,000 barrels of Canadian crude oil from Hardesty, Alberta, to refineries in Illinois, will help wean the United States off the uncertainties of Mideast oil supplies.

Americans, and South Dakotans in particular, have no quarrel with that. However, we do have heartburn with the process that TransCanada -- and to a certain extent South Dakota -- officials have undertaken to make this project a win for all concerned.

The initial easement process implemented by TransCanada to gain approval of affected South Dakota landowners was poorly designed at best and, in some cases, a heavy-handed, threatening exercise that has only been exacerbated by promises of eminent domain and condemnation procedures.

While that is a tough pill for South Dakota landowners to swallow, U.S. law would side with Trans- Canada, regardless of whether it is a foreign registered company or not. TransCanada likes to remind us of this with the subtlety of a sledgehammer.

TransCanada, you failed Corporate Citizenship 101 with this approach... [Editorial, "Pipeline Process Needs Better Accountability,"Aberdeen American News, reposted at RedOrbit.com, 2008.02.24].

The editorial goes on to say that even the best laid pipes can fail, and that we have an excellent opportunity before any digging begins to establish rules of construction, operation, and financial responsibility that will protect everyone's interests. The editorial also expresses the hope that the "PUC will conduct a thorough due-diligence process and exhibit greater leadership than our governor's office has on this project." The AAN writers are spot on when they say Governor Rounds has rolled out the red carpet for TransCanada, a foreign oil company, while treating his fellow South Dakotans like second-class citizens.

But again, "Anything for a Buck." We could have imposed a two-cent-a-barrel pipeline tax to create a fund for cleaning up pipeline messes; instead, our legislators gutted SB 190 and turned it into a toothless measure creating paperwork and a task force. (The House passed it yesterday, 50-19 -- but even that faint whiff of standing in the way of Big Oil apparently induced District 8's Rep. Olson to vote nay.)

SB 174: Helping Railroads Take Your Land Faster

SB 174, the Legislature's effort to help the DM&E circumvent court delays in pending eminent domain hearings, passed the South Dakota House yesterday, 54-16. The Senate gave its approval a couple weeks ago 20-13. The District 8 scorecard:

  • Rep. Russell Olson (R-Madison): Yea.
  • Rep. David Gassman (D-Canova): Nay.
  • Sen. Dan Sutton (D-Flandreau): Yea.

SDPB's Statehouse last night showed supporters arguing that this bill would promote economic development. Given Olson's and Sutton's backgrounds as economic development agency chiefs, their votes aren't surprising. But maybe we should encourage a little honest advertising and change our state motto from "Under God the People Rule" to "Anything for a Buck."

Supporters on the House floor also argued that SB 174 simply puts railroads on an equal footing with other industries in eminent domain proceedings. I'm all for fairness. But we should have gone the other way: instead of making it easier for railroads to take our land for their profits, we should have made it harder for all the other industries to use eminent domain.

ASBSD: Rounds Admits One-Time Money Affects Reserves

My Sitemeter stats show some referrals from Open Forum, the official blog of the Associated School Boards of South Dakota. I backtrack and find a very interesting post about Governor Rounds's response to a January letter to the editor from Doland superintendent Jerry McPartland to the Doland Times Record. (Governor Rounds doesn't want to testify in court about education funding, but at least he's putting his disagreements in writing for the local press.) ASBSD says the Governor admits that one-time money results in temporarily increased reserve fund balances, as the agencies receiving that money take time to figure out how best to use it:

Superintendent McPartland referenced portions of our statement throughout his letter to the editor, including the following statement:

According to research provided by the Associated School Boards of South Dakota, since 1998, school district fund balances statewide have decreased by more than $25 million. Over the same period, state reserves have increased from $43 million to $133 million.

To that, Gov. Rounds responded:

What ASBSD failed to tell Mr. McPartland is the state received a one-time payment in 2004 in the amount of $66.3 million as part of the President's fiscal relief program. That money was placed into the property tax reduction fund. ASBSD also failed to tell Mr. McPartland my proposed budget calls for an ending balance of $99.7 million in the property tax reduction fund and the budget reserve combined.

Well... that's a positive step forward. We appreciate Gov. Rounds now says that one-time money has an impact on reserves, and that it might take up to five years to plan on how best to spend one-time funds [ASBSD, "Gov. Rounds: One-Time money Impacts Reserves," Open Forum, 2008.02.26]

The state gets to save its money and plan ahead, but Governor Rounds expects schools to burn through their pittances from Pierre immediately. Makes sense, from a Machiavellian point of view: the less cushion the schools have, the more beholden they'll be to the powers above.

A couple side notes: this Open Forum post goes on to argue that Governor Rounds is dedicated to defending the status quo, as evidenced by his arguments with Rutland Superintendent Carl Fahrenwald and Senator Sandy Jerstad (D-12/Sioux Falls). Note that Supt. Fahrenwald weighs in with a response in the comments section. The Governor asks for examples of disrespect from Pierre; Supt. Fahrenwald points to the TCAP money:

The strings attached to this money (rather more like towropes) are not at all appreciated as these TCAP rules and procedures serve as ready evidence of the utter lack of respect for the teaching profession (at least at the K-12 level)....

With TCAP dollars for teachers it is assumed from the onset that not all deserve nor should get these additional dollars. With state employees, all who qualify for the mid-point adjustment (however the system defines it) simply get this additional money by definition. [Dr. Carl Fahrenwald, comment on "Governor Questions Superintendent's Intelligence, Honesty, and Commitment to Students," 2008.02.26].

Dr. Fahrenwald writes more, and it's worth reading. Governor Rounds, your reply is welcome....

Open Forum also notes and congratulates yours truly on my decision to run for the Madison Central School Board. Thank you, Open Forum... although I wonder if I ought to be nervous about the establishment noticing my humble political aspirations. Stay tuned.... ;-)

School Board Blogging

No history-making for this blogger! I was thinking, "If I win the school board election on April 8, I'll be the first school board member to blog in South Dakota! Cool!"

Ha. As usual, I'm playing catch-up. A message from Fred Deutsch, member of the Watertown school board, points me toward his new education blog, School of Thought. He has lots of good education links in his sidebar, plus a great "Sweet 16" list of good books for school board members to read. (Sibby, be sure to vet Deutsch's site for Marxism... ;-) )

Deustch started blogging just this month, but he already seems to "get" what blogs can do:

The more we can all talk about the things we like and don’t like in our public schools, the more we can do to make them even better. [Deutsch, welcome message].

Exactly. Board members and community members alike need to be open and talk about what's going on with our schools, good and bad. We need to highlight and celebrate the good things that our kids and teachers do. But it's just as important that we face the problems our schools. You can't solve problems without talking about them first.

Welcome to the blog-world, Mr. Deutsch! I hope you get lots of Watertown parents and students into some good conversations.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Obama Outhustles Clinton, Gets Herseth-Sandlin Endorsement

KELO reports that South Dakota Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin has come down from the fence and declared her support for Illinois Senator Barack Obama's bid for the Presidency. Remember, she was an early Edwards supporter. Now she's joined the crowd: Tim Johnson endorsed Obama back in January, and Daschle, of course, has been on board with Obama since last February and is one of Obama's campaign co-chairmen.

Why Obama?
Herseth Sandlin says Obama, a senator from Illinois, will capitalize on what South Dakota's communities, families and entrepreneurs have to offer. [Stephanie must be reading the Madville Times....]

Herseth Sandlin says her decision was based primarily on Obama's interest in promoting renewable energies and his interest in talking to her in detail about those issues.

She says Obama's rival, Hillary Clinton, did not talk with her -- but that she had a long, detailed talk with Obama [AP, "Herseth Sandlin Endorses Obama," KELOLand.com, 2008.02.26].

Is the endorsement of little South Dakota's lone Congresswoman worth the effort? Obama apparently thinks so. That's consistent with the 50-state strategy that has paid off for him in a spectacular February. Clinton apparently doesn't think so. That's consistent with the big-state, big-donor, "over by Feb. 5" strategy that has produced a failing campaign.

But let's keep it local. Obama takes the time to get our Congressional delegate on his bandwagon. Clinton doesn't. So which candidate will pay more attention to South Dakota once elected?

Republican Governor Proposes $300M for Education and Property Tax Relief

...now which Dakota do you think that happened in?

While the Legislature continues to dilly-dally over education funding (and find fun ways to whack away at school budgets, like HB 1076), and while Governor Rounds plays the scold to our school districts, let's take a look at how our Republicanly governed neighbors in North Dakota handle education:

Bill Will Increase School Funding in North Dakota

An Education Funding Reform and Property Tax Relief Plan in the amount of $300 million was announced Thursday by North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven [Republican] in Fargo and Bismarck. The package will alleviate the burden carried by local taxpayers and increase funding for the North Dakota school districts by reducing school levies an average of 50 mills and boosting state support for schools to 66 percent of the cost of education...

"At last we have a major proposal to dramatically increase the state's share of the cost of education," said Sen. Flakoll [R-44/Fargo]. "As the state contributes $300 million more to the per-student payment, the local share of the cost will actually go down."

"The Governor's proposal for $200 million in property tax relief will have a big impact on people's tax statement," said Sen. Wardner [R-37/Dickinson]. "This is needed right now to hold down the local assessments."

The additional $100 million would come in the form of an increase for education.

"I am very pleased that the Governor is willing to set aside as much as $100 million for increased K-12 funding," said Rep. Kelsch [R-34/Mandan]. "We need to continue the great progress we have been making in education." [staff, Wahpeton Daily News, 2008.02.25]

That's Republicans talking. Of course, Gov. Hoeven is running for re-election, so maybe he's just offering some smiley election-year promises. His Democratic opponent Merle Boucher offered a very similar plan last year. Another Democratic opponent, Tim Mathern, calls Hoeven's plan a "positive development" [see Jonathan Rivoli, "Hoeven Offers Education, Tax Relief Plan," Bismarck Tribune, 2008.02.22].

And this plan looks that much less like an election-year stunt when you consider that comes on top of a $90 million increase in K-12 funding that prompted North Dakota schools to drop their lawsuit against the state.

$90 million in one year. $100 million over the next two. And our lawmakers tell us South Dakota will always be at the bottom of the education funding stats, that we can't find even $30 million a year to bring our teacher pay up from 51st to 5oth in the nation (to tie with North Dakota).

And don't tell me North Dakota has more money -- they don't. Check out these stats from the US Bureau of Economic Analysis:

2006 stats

per capita income 2006 $32,552 $33,929
percent increase 3.8 4.3
total personal income $20.7B $26.5B
population 636,000 782,000
Source: "State Personal Income 2006 (Table 1),"
Bureau of Economic Analysis, 2007.03.27

North Dakota has less money and fewer people, yet they are able to pump more money into education than South Dakota does. Dr. Schaff may remind me that money alone does not produce better educational outcomes, but money does produce competitive (not to mention moral) wages.

Maybe we need to add one more stat to explain the difference between how North Dakota and South Dakota approach education funding:


and will

10 0
source: Madville Times

Monday, February 25, 2008

Notes from the Madison Campaign Trail

Thanks to the kind folks who visited with me this afternoon as I made the rounds with my petition to run for school board. So far so good -- no doors slammed in my face, no dogs mistaking me for a yummy mailman. Even the folks who did decline to sign my petition did so politely.

I'll be going door-to-door around town again tomorrow, so if you're a registered voter in the Madison Central School District and you'd like to grant me your permission to run for a seat on the school board, drop me a line, and I'll stop by.

While I was pounding pavement and doors, MDL reported on the front page that Jay Niedert, an MDL employee and education professional who's worked at AIM High, Madison's alternative high school, was planning to turn his petitions in today. (Chuck, you didn't mention anything about that when you talked with me this morning! ;-) ) That makes two professional educators seeking seats on the school board. Go figure!

MDL's Chuck Clement quoted Niedert on alternative education, noting that with the state Department of Labor planning to cut its financial support for AIM High and other alternative school programs, Madison Central is going to have to figure out a solution for the kids that program is currently serving. As Superintendent Schaefer said at the Feb. 12 board meeting, we'll likely have to work on a cooperative effort among surrounding districts to maintain an alternative education program.

Chuck nicely summarized the answers I gave him about big issues for the school board: teacher pay (and pushing the Legislature to do more, the way North Dakota's is doing -- hat tip to a reader, and more on that later!), No Child Left Behind (I thought it died last fall!), laptops (expect me to quote Professor Schaff), fine arts....

One of my signers mentioned hearing that some of our incumbents may be looking to run again as well. Goeman, Thomson, Zolnowsky... if we get at least two of them to try, then yahoo! we'll have a real race!

Seriously, I hope we do get at least a couple more people on the ballot. A full election is good for the school district. It gives us a chance to have a community-wide conversation about our schools and our priorities. What do we want our kids to learn? What kind of support are we willing to show our teachers in terms of pay, benefits, schedule, etc.? Nothing will draw out and test ideas better than a healthy democratic contest.

Petition deadline is Friday, 5 p.m.! Should you let Mr. Niedert and me have a free pass? Heck no! Let's see some petitions!

LAIC Housing Study: Fewer Students, More Houses, Lake Home Growth

Last Wednesday, the Lake Area Improvement Corporation held a public forum to present information about the "much anticipated, final version" of the study it paid Community Partners Research to conduct of the housing situation in Madison and Lake County. So far, though, the LAIC has not posted any of that information online.

While we wait for the LAIC to get the study up on its website (and other communities who have worked with Community Partners research have done a bang-up job of that: see, for example, Itasca County, MN, and Morris, MN), the Madville Times has managed to get hold of an executive summary of the study (posted in simple HTML format for your easy downloading pleasure). A summary of the summary:
  1. Madison's population is down; Lake County's is up. More households, fewer people per household.
  2. CPR contends Census data undercounts: expect more population and household growth than available projections.
  3. DSU overall enrollment is up, but mostly in distance students: the number of students taking classes on campus is down from 1,461 in 2000 to 1,236 in fall 2007.
  4. Lake County median income in 2007: $41,232. Median income in 2000: $34,176.
  5. Madison median income in 2007: $34,227. Median income in 2000: $30,441.
  6. Median home-buying power in Lake County: $120,500. That means half of us can afford a home more expensive than that, half of us can afford only less.
  7. CPR's "target affordable rent level": $606 per month.

CPR recommends an affordable housing development strategy "largely developed by the Greater Minnesota Housing Fund." The executive summary does not outline what goes into that strategy, but GMHF provides information on its Building Better Neighborhoods program and the Minnesota Green Communities Initiative. Read up, and let's see how many of the recommendations of those programs make it into our own housing strategy.

Somebody's Got to Do It...

As of Friday, as far as I know, no one had taken out a petition to run for the three seats opening up on the Madison Central School Board. With the deadline looming -- petitions have to be in to the school district business office by Friday, Feb. 29, 5 p.m. -- that's not a good sign. Our school board has had a hard time rustling up candidates recently. We haven't had a contested school board election since 2005. Only two citizens filed petitions for three openings last year. Four years ago they also lost a member mid term. In both instances, the board had to appoint someone to fill the slots (Gwen Thompson last summer, David Zolnowsky before that).

Thomson and Zolnowsky have both served ably, but it's not a healthy democratic trend when a governing board gets to pick its own members. In that spirit, I've taken out a petition for a school board seat. I've laid out my qualifications before: career in education, tech knowledge, firm belief in open government, and straight talk. My work on the Lake Herman Sanitary District has demonstrated my commitment to doing things by the book, keeping the public informed, and listening to people.

Most importantly, while I have spoken up on a number of issues concerning the school district -- laptop computers, gyms and theaters, opt-outs, trimester scheduling -- I'm not applying for the job to grind on one or two pet issues. Serving on the school board isn't about any single issue: it's about working to do right by the students and the teachers, to ensure that they have the resources they need to make education happen. I think I have a broad enough vision of education to do that job.

If you agree (and if you're a registered voter in the Madison Central School District), give me a shout, and I'll bring my petition by for you to sign. If you disagree, well, you have until Friday to take out a petition of your own. As my readers know, I welcome competition. More voices, more discussion, more democracy! Let's see some more candidates!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Gerry Lange for Gov... Oh Wait...

...we already have a governor who supports an income tax!

Dakota War College bemoans the signing into law of HB 1005, South Dakota's new income tax. Republican Governor M. Michael Rounds signed it into law Thursday. Oddly, he did not invite the true grandfather of this legislation, Gerald Lange, to the signing ceremony. Governor Rounds doesn't appear to have made any fuss about signing this new income tax into law. Was he afraid to draw attention to this utter reversal of Republican talking points that he used to help push Gerry Lange out of office in 2006?

But let's hope PP doesn't pack up the family and head for Minnesota. The bill his Republican friends sponsored, passed, and signed is no "sucking rift" -- it's a rational replacement of an outmoded, inaccurate, arbitrary tax system with a fair, objective measure of wealth. Instead of the county assessor taking a wild guess on how much some speculator might be willing to pay for a given plot of land for unpredictable uses in an unpredictable economy, the SDSU economists will do a bang-up job of calculating a productivity formula that any high school graduate can understand. (Don't let me down here, State!) But eventually, their slide rules will start wearing out, and we'll all realize it would be a heck of a lot simpler to scrap the whole property tax charade and impose a straight income tax on everyone, individuals and businesses alike.

Here's what PP is really worried about: The electorate will recognize Governor Rounds's signing of HB 1005 as an endorsement of Gerry Lange's candidacy for the Legislature. Gerry will win in November and head back to Pierre to preside over South Dakota's transition into a new era of modern taxation. But look on the bright side: think of how many more fun Gerry quotes PP will have to blog about.

South Dakota Income Tax: good for farmers, good for Gerry, good for bloggers... good for everyone!

Governor Questions Superintendent's Intelligence, Honesty, and Commitment to Students

If Governor M. Michael Rounds is intending to run for Senate, he's clearly writing off the Rutland vote.

In Friday's MDL, Governor Rounds responds to Rutland School District Superintendent Carl Fahrenwald, who wrote a strongly worded critique ("Unemployment Proposed as Solution for Low Salaries," Madison Daily Leader, 2008.02.01] of the push for school consolidation.

Editor's note: Dr. Fahrenwald's essay appeared in MDL as an op-ed column, not a letter to the editor. And contrary to the appellation used repeatedly by the governor, Dr. Fahrenwald does indeed possess a Doctorate in Education from USD.

I am again compelled to respond to a letter to the editor by Rutland Superintendent Carl Fahrenwald. This time, Mr. Fahrenwald's letter to the editor titled "Unemployment proposed as solution for low salaries appeared in the Feb. 1 edition of the Madison Daily Leader.

I do not take issue with Mr. Fahrenwald when he contends school consolidations are difficult propositions. School district consolidation is often the final step of cooperation between school districts. I would ask Mr. Fahrenwald if current examples of school districts cooperating, such as sports cooperatives or sharing of teachers, do not save money.

Mr. Fahrenwald talks about efficiency and savings. He does not seem to recognize the efficiency of one teacher in front of 20 students as opposed to one teacher in front of ten students. His logic completely falls apart when he says "no state government official is promising to pass even one dime of this imaginary 'extra' money immediately (if ever) on to the remaining K-12 schools."

Mr. Fahrenwald apparently does not understand, or chooses to ignore, the working of the state aid to education formula. For the 2008-09 school year, each school district will receive $4,642.02 from state aid to education plus property taxes for each student, regardless of whether or not a consolidatio may take place. If Mr. Fahrenwald thinks consolidated school districts somehow receive less money per student, he is mistaken.

Mr. Fahrenwald continues to misunderstand the state aid to education formula when he says, "More land added per district may well be more financially efficient overall, but it is state government that will capture and control this efficiency."

I don't know what he is talking about, and I don't think he does either. As a matter of fact, SDCL 13-13-72, known as the "Cutler-Gabriel" amendment, provides growth in valuations be offset by reduction in tax levies so that the ratio of state aid to education and property taxes remain constant. In other words, the taxpayer, not the state treasury, is the beneficiary of increasing property values.

Part of Mr. Fahrenwald's complaint is "...the humiliating annual pilgrimage to Pierre where funding for K-12 public education (and even basic recognition and respect) must be re-begged and bartered for during every legislative session." Again, I have no idea what he means by begging for basic recognition and respect.

I welcome Mr. Fahrenwald to provide examples where he or school officials have not been recognized or treated with respect. I remind Mr. Fahrenwald that funding for K-12 education is the only part of the state budget which is entitled to an automatic increase. On top of the automatic increase, the Legislature has, on several occasions, providing for declining enrollment (making that feature permanent last year), increasing enrollment, sparsity, and increases in the per student allocation in excess of the amount of the automatic increase.

In his letter the to editor, Mr. Fahrenwald talks about efficiency, school officials, school board members, economic impacts, horses and veterinarians. He does not mention students. I think that omission speaks volumes.

M. Michael Rounds [Letter to the Editor, Madison Daily Leader, 2008.02.22, p. 3]

The governor's crafty parting shot is correct in only the most lawyerly sense: Dr. Fahrenwald's essay does not include the word students. It does, however, end with the following two paragraphs:

Let us instead work to support local school board members in charting a course for their own districts, large and small, as directed by their own local patrons. This is not about blind loyalty or the sentimentality of "saving a town." It is about the quality and variety of educational programs available and the ability of Madison area families to have some choice in public education.

We are tired of being negatively characterized and dismissed by those with no knowledge of the tremendous opportunities available for children at the Rutland and Oldham-Ramona school districts. We are not some lame horse waiting for the vet to come back with the rifle. Our local farmers, parents and other district taxpayers have the knowledge, experience, and "horse-sense" necessary to guide school board members in the leadership of our school districts. Please allow them to continue doing so [Fahrenwald 2008.02.01]

Opportunities for children (students, right?), quality and variety of educational programs, choice in public education, local control... gee, sounds like Dr. Fahrenwald mentions not only good education for the kids his community entrusts him with, but all the main Republican talking points on education.

Feel free to review Dr. Fahrenwald's complete text yourself and decide whether Governor Rounds really addressed Dr. Fahrenwald's argument that school consolidation isn't the great financial boon the big-town interests claim.

Open the Books -- Pass HB 1233

It's the last week of the Legislature. There's lots to do, and in the mix may be a push to save HB 1233, a bill sponsored by Rep. Hal Wick (R-12/Sioux Falls) and others to create a searchable online database where you and I can look up any and all state financial information, including budget expenditures, state employee pay, tax revenue, federal grants, and bonded indebtedness (see the full list in Section 2 of the bill). The House gave this bill a thumbs up (good call, Russ!), but five Senators -- Knudson, Hanson, McCracken, Heidepriem, and Dempster -- voted to kill it in committee on Wednesday.

KELO reports that the bill's supporters are going to try to revive the bill in the Senate this week. PP shares my hope that they will succeed. For us bloggers in particular, an online state ledger what would be a spectacular resource for research and links to keep folks informed on how Pierre is spending our money. PP notes that the senators who deferred the bill to the 36th day cited concerns about declining revenues, but on the very same day, those same senators voted to pump $768,004 into subsidizing the State Fair (see HB 1179).

I'm spitballing here, but I'm thinking even if we couldn't produce this financial database -- a South Dakota version of the 2006 "Google for Government" act successfully pushed by Senators Obama and Coburn -- with existing staff and equipment by shifting record-keeping to an online database, we could probably take $100K out of that State Fair subsidy, spend it on an ambitious programmer and a couple new servers and have us a workable site by the July 1, 2009, implementation date.

Let's get that information online. It's our money: we have every right to know where it's going. And the Internet is the fastest, easiest, and I would argue cheapest way for the government to let us know how it's spending our money. HB 1233 -- one of the best ideas this session! Bring on the smoke-out!

Viva Obama, Viva YouTube

I suppose I exhibit some latent ethnocentric insensitivity in finding the following Obama video funny. Obama mariachi style strikes me as just a little cheesy. But it's still a blast to have YouTube to bring us the kinds of videos that would never play on KELO or in the national media. I admire artists who will put on big hats, walk down the street, and sing their political convictions with complete sincerity. And those folks with the signs singing "Viva Obama" -- who says they're cheesy? They look like they mean it. (Steve Sibson and my other conservative friends, feel free to comb the video frame by frame for Che posters):

No time this morning for a dissertation on the New Media, image and substance, and production values. But for those of you looking to do some media critique this lazy Sunday, here's a more well-known musical take on the Obama campaign, the DipDive will.i.am video. Enjoy!

Update 14:25: A reader alerts me to an apparent YouTube outage. Must have been swamped with Madville Times traffic. Sorry about that!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Small-Scale Agriculture: Key to Self-Reliance and Family Farms

My partner in revolution, Prairie Roots, continues her thoughtful and substantive look at prairie life with a three-part interview with Rebecca Terk of Flying Tomato Farms in Vermillion. She promotes Community-Supported Agriculture, a concept that ought to catch on like gangbusters in South Dakota, given the self-reliant pioneer spirit that built this state. But Terk notes that self-reliance isn't about retreating to your homestead, growing your own potatoes and ethanol, and never coming to town again. It's about relying on each other as a community, as a state, and making our lives better by living off the resources we have. Those resources include the obvious like our precious topsoil and water (tell me again why we want to endanger those with oil pipelines and refineries?). Those resources also include the knowledge of the people around us: Terk says that asking lots of questions of the other farmers and gardeners around Vermillion, "especially the old timers who can remember when organic was conventional," has played a vital role in making her operation succeed.

Just how successful is Flying Tomato Farms? Well, Terk says growing and selling produce provides only a quarter of her income. But she makes that on one acre, cultivated mostly by hand.

Think about that: one acre produces a quarter of Terk's income. Perhaps I oversimplify, but that suggests four acres could produce her full income. She could live on four acres. How many farmers out there have 640 acres, or 1280, or more, and still have to take jobs in town to round out their income? Following Terk's farming practices, we could take a typical section, plant half of it to shelterbelts and prairie grass for conservation, divide the remaining 320 acres into eighty plots, and see eighty families make a decent living off the land.

Eighty family farms, making a living and using organic methods, where right now one man struggles to get by with industrial monoculture.

Now Terk is a new settler -- she moved here from Middlebury, Vermont, in 1993. (Remember, unless you're Lakota, we're all new settlers here.) But when asked what she likes about South Dakota and what she'd improve, she talks like a true pioneer [following emphasis mine]:

I love South Dakota because I feel like it’s still so wide open—like it’s not all bought up and “taken.” There exist so many possibilities here—especially for young people!...

...It’s just plain perverse when people recognize you’re brilliant and full of energy and will make a difference and they tell you that you ought to leave or your talents will be “wasted.” People with talent ought to be encouraged to use those talents for the betterment of their home and community, and what betters the home and community has a strong tendency to better the self....

...I like to question, and even poke a little fun at, people and organizations in Vermillion and in the state, but it’s because I very deeply care about this community and the organizations here in which I’m involved.

One thing I see in South Dakota that troubles me is that there are many people who are so anxious to get “caught up” with the rest of the country/world that they don’t learn from others’ mistakes. This proposed oil refinery project in Union County is one of those mistakes that we may be very close to making. Sometimes when you live in a place, maybe especially if you’re young, you can only see what you don’t have, not what you do have. I am inspired by those elders who got up at the public hearing on the refinery to talk about the high quality of their way of life, and their desire to preserve the land. It’s not that they don’t want their kids and grandkids to have jobs, it’s that they know the value of what they have, and they want their kids and grandkids to have it, too.

...as much as I have longed for change since I have come to South Dakota, I am starting to see how important it is to preserve and maintain what we have. It’s not that I don’t welcome certain kinds of “progress”—it’s just as easy, maybe easier, to get stuck in the ruts of old ways—but I think change has to be thoughtful and deliberate and has to be considerate of the past.

[Rebecca Terk, interview with Erin Heidelberger, "South Dakota Green Feature: Flying Tomato Farms (Part 3)," Prairie Roots, 2008.02.19]

Now that's the kind of morning reading that can make a guy (and a girl) want to get up and do good for South Dakota.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

SiouxEmpireNews.com Goes Silent Again

Just as I was looking forward to another surge of referrals -- poof! SiouxEmpireNews.com, Joe Prostrollo's latest media venture, goes dormant. Nuts! What does it take to break into the Sioux Falls market, anyway?

Well, if nothing else, maybe we just need to wait until July 31, when one can hope Shawn Cable's non-compete clause with KELO expires. Then Shawn and Joe can rig up a used van (actually, fellas, I can help you out there!) with some satellite equipment and on-board Doppler and create the Storm Chasers channel! Yahoo!

Seriously, keep trying, Joe! Another media voice in Sioux Falls doesn't have to be a zero-sum game, but even if you can't knock off KELO, there's certainly a newspaper taking some lumps that can't nail down it's web strategy and might be ripe for some competition....

NY Times Praises Semicolon; English Teachers Rejoice

John Collignon, my geography and sociology teacher at Madison HS and a Lake Herman neighbor, once told me that once shared with me a key component of his grading scale for sophomore essays: "If they use a semicolon, I know they've plagiarized."

Mr. Collignon's suspicion of semicolons jumps to mind as an article about the appearance of a semicolon in a subway poster makes today's New York Times list of top ten most e-mailed articles (#3 when I checked at 10:00 a.m. CST this morning: see Sam Roberts, "Celebrating the Semicolon in a Most Unlikely Location," New York Times, 2008.02.18). The semicolon is a great puzzler for many writers. Most people can and do skip it altogether, with little to no impact on the quality of their writing. However, even if we don't use it much, the semicolon has its place as a useful tool for clarifying and strengthening our written expression.

In celebration of the semicolon's brief moment of Net buzz, (and feeling a little nostalgia for my English classroom), I am happy to post the rules for semicolon usage. The rules are simpler than most people think, much simpler and more objective than the rules for commas. Actually, there are only two situations where you can use a semicolon:

  1. You can use a semicolon to join two complete sentences that have some logical connection:
    • --"The king ordered the execution of 12 dissident bloggers; not to be outdone, the queen ordered 20 bloggers drawn and quartered, slowly."
    • --"John ate 22 pickles; later, he felt rather ill."
    • --"People say they don't like negative campaigning; nonetheless, it works."

  2. You can use a semicolon to separate items in a "complicated list"; i.e., if items in the list you are writing include commas, separate the items with semicolons:
    • --"Our whirlwind tour of Europe took us to Zurich, Switzerland; Rome and Florence, Italy; and Heidelberg, Germany."
    • --"I went to the conference with my girlfriend; Professor Smith, the chair of the history department; Dr. Li, an individual who talks far too much; a reporter from the campus newspaper; two observers from the Student Senate, Kris and Patrick; and my academic advisor." [Write that sentence with just commas and witness the confusion that ensues!]
    • --"As president, Barack Obama will implement a 21st century economic agenda to help ensure that America can compete in a global economy, and ensure the middle class is thriving and growing. He will increase investments in infrastructure, energy independence, education, and research and development; modernize and simplify our tax code so it provides greater opportunity and relief to more Americans; and implement trade policies that benefit American workers and increase the export of American goods" ["Issues," Barack Obama campaign website, downloaded 2008.02.21 10:25 CST].
That's it. In any other situation, a semicolon is flat wrong.

Expect a press release from the Clinton campaign on Obama's misuse of semicolons any day now...

Eggheads in Pierre -- Students Present Research

"We Go Dome!" the football players at Montrose liked to grunt around November. Yesterday, I went Dome -- Capitol Dome! I joined 88 other university students for the Student Research Poster Session, sponsored by SD-EPSCoR. My friend Patrick Weber was there from SDSU, presenting a proof he and his fellow students worked out on triangle similarity using imaginary numbers (word is a math guru challenged the calculations, but Weber stood his mathematical ground -- good man!). The future Jordanian millionaire next to me -- Ahmad from the School of Mines -- presented a design for antennae on paper that can be embedded in helmets and eliminate one more piece of equipment our soldiers have to lug around.

Among DSU's contingent, budding Internet magnate Matt Paulson showed a stunningly simple yet effective way to keep hackers from stealing your PIN when you do online banking. Huron's Alex Wollman showed research on genetic programming, a programming method that looks to me like a way to allow computers to generate their own new software.

And me? Well, I got to jawbone a few legislators about my continuing research on e-Government.

Here's me with my poster. If nothing else, years in education gives you lots of practice at putting together bright bulletin boards for the kids.

District 8 Representative David Gassman takes in my spiel. He's still recovering from a nasty bout with influenza-A that knocked him out of commission all last week. No more excused votes for him, though: he's fighting off the bug like a champ.

District 8 Representative Russell Olson drops by to take my e-Government survey and ask some good tough questions about how my revamp of the LRC website would work. Turning it into a 24-7 crackerbarrell sounds great, but he wants to know what sort of security the system will have, who will run it, and how much it will cost. That's Rep. Olson for you -- big ideas are great, but we need the nuts and bolts as well. Expect lots of input from Olson and other legislators in this research!

District 8 Senator Dan Sutton stopped by about ten seconds after this picture was taken. Let me say a big thank you to our full District 8 delegation for taking time between session and caucus meetings to check out the poster session. I'll keep working to turn this initial research into something that help the legislators do their jobs and help citizens participate in the process. Stay tuned for more of better government through egghead ideas!

Photo credit: all photos by Dr. Wayne Pauli, DSU. See all of Dr. Pauli's photos of the session here!

Our Friend the Carp?

Frigid days like these make us all long for the long, languid days of summer when the kids run free, the blooming corn makes bigger thunderstorms, and Lake Herman glitters under the high golden sun.

Of course, we know that by July, that glitter will take on a familiar greenish tint, as the algae comes back and makes walking on water something even mere mortals can do.

I'll still take a steamy summer day with a certain green aroma than our 40th day of subzero sunrise. But if blue-green algae ruins your summer fun, the Chinese may have an all-natural solution: the wily carp:

East China's Anhui Province has resorted to the biological measure of using algae-eating fish to clear the polluted Chaohu Lake, the country's fifth largest body of freshwater.

This week, Chaohu Fishery Administration put more than 50,000 silver carp fry into the lake. It will add another 1.55 million in the coming 20 days, said deputy director Wu Changjun on Wednesday.

A silver carp will have eaten between 40 and 50 kilograms of blue algae when it reaches one kilogram. The school of fish is expected to effectively curb the blue algae pollution.

The fish could also sell for 7.5 million yuan (1.05 million U.S. dollars) on the market by year end, 15 times the investment in the fry. While the fishery authority has paid for the fry, fishermen are free to catch the mature fish, according to Wu [Xinhua news agency, "China to Put 1.6 Million Fish into Lake to Clear Algae," People's Daily Online, 2008.02.21].

No word on how those carp will taste.

Evidently the Chinese aren't worried about other possible ecosystem harms. But if algae is our biggest concern, maybe after last fall's big backhoe harvest, GF&P needs to restock Lake Herman with more of our friend the carp.

Guest Column: Gerry Lange -- Why I'm Running

Take the asterisk off Gerry Lange's name: he's filed those petitions for the District 8 House race. He's the first District 8 candidate to hit the Secretary of State's candidate list.

Now there are plenty of Republicans and even some Dems scratching their heads and wondering why Gerry would want to bother. He served in the Legislature for seven terms, then got turned out pretty handily last time. Why not just sit back and enjoy retirement and his huge family?

Let Gerry himself answer that question:

by Gerry Lange

The fact that the Rounds Administration orchestrated a thirty-thousand dollar campaign to “shut me up” last election tells me that my sixteen-year crusade for tax reform and better education funding, must have gotten to them. Like the problems left unsolved, I’m not going away either!

Here are three quick reasons why I’m “resurrecting from the dead.” School funding; open government; and economic development.

Even the Sioux Falls Chamber now agrees that we’ve got find a way to boost education. So why is the Rounds Administration asking for over three million dollars to fight the schools’ law suit? Secondly, what has the Governor to hide that makes him so nervous about allowing the press to see public documents? Third, why did Arctic Cat leave Madison; and why did Daktronics expand in Minnesota? Why are we so slow in developing wind energy?

After thirty years of one-party rule, isn’t it time to hold the party in power responsible? The problem is best summed up by Julian Bond’s observation after the Democrats lost in 2002. “When the shameless compete with the spineless, the shameless always win.” It seems to me that most Democrats in South Dakota today are “spineless” preferring to “solve” funding issues by spending one-time money out of the various reserve “trust’ accounts or slimming down “big government” in Pierre. The funding shift can’t happen without at least a two-thirds majority vote, so it just won’t happen, yet it makes for good talking points. Right now, only a couple of other states try to get by without some form of income tax. Here, it can be done without scaring the “W-2” employees. People with investment profits could help support education through a tax on the federal 1099 form. As in most other states, corporations in South Dakota could also add another100 million to education with a modest 6% tax. Following other states, with enlightened leadership in Pierre, we could move off “dead last in everything!”

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Wind Power: Transmission Is Not a Problem

...except for someone's business model...

Looks like I need to keep reminding people that it's not the lack of transmission lines that stand in the way of developing wind power in South Dakota and promoting energy independence: it's a lack of imagination.

KELO repeats the standard line about how we won't get more windmills until we get more transmission lines, this time from Michael Trykoski, chairman of the board of the South Dakota Energy Infrastructure Authority. He speaks of the "major hurdles in turning wind energy into large-scale electricity." The SDEIA's homepage talks about our commitment to becoming a "net energy exporter."

Sure, if wind power is just part of a business model, then we face challenges. If wind power is just a commodity to sell, then we need transmission lines to reach the bigger market.

But we don't have to wait for wind power to be a money-maker. We can get to work right now making it a money-saver, not to mention an environment saver. If we start putting up windmills near our schools and factories and other local facilities, we can reduce our use of power from coal-fired plants and other messier sources.

Look at it this way: So transmission lines cost a million dollars a mile. We could spend $100 million running one big line from Wessington Springs to the Minnesota border, or we could spend a million dollars to hook one hundred communities up to one hundred small wind farms, each a mile out of town. Then those towns reduce their dependence on energy from polluting sources and over time, start saving money.

Why aren't the bigwigs on energy policy promoting that course of action? Here's one explanation: consider that Mr. Trykoski, SDEIA chair, is also a current member of the Board of Directors of the Utility Shareholders of South Dakota. And the last thing shareholders and the utility companies from which they expect increasing dividends would want is for us to use less energy from their profitable power plants. Make our own electricity? Egads! That would cut into their business model. Make more electricity that they can commoditize and export so we can keep importing their power? That's where the money is.

I don't mind folks wanting to make a profit. (I'd love to make one myself someday!) But I do mind when the profit mindset keeps our elected (and, in Mr. Trykoski's case, appointed) officials from seeing positive, practical solutions that would promote South Dakota's energy independence.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Wisconsin Exit Poll: Obama Nearly Sweeps

So I get a ten-minute break from class and check the primary returns on CNN: not many precincts in yet from Wisconsin, and we'll have to stay up late to hear from Hawaii.

But if you want some interesting numbers to look at, see CNN's Wisconsin exit poll of Democratic voters. Plagiarism charges be darned, Obama is sweeping nearly every category. The only categories where Clinton comes out ahead are among women (a 3% margin), folks over 60, Catholics who go to church weekly, folks who think gender is an important factor, and folks in northwestern Wisconsin.

In the vote by education, Clinton tied Obama among folks whose highest degree is a high school diploma. As folks get smarter -- or at least as they report having more formal education -- they swing to Obama.

Obama posts higher numbers among every income group in Wisconsin (though it's really close among the $15K-$30K group). And on the issues -- among those who picked either the economy, Iraq, or health care as their most important issue -- Obama won every group.

I've been wrong before (remember the Muskie moment in New Hampshire?), so I'm not afraid to be wrong again. Clinton changed strategy to make an extra push in Wisconsin. That push appears to have failed.

Minor prediction: expect the Clinton campaign to be filing papers in court this month, before all the air goes out of their balloon, to get the Florida and Michigan delegates reinstated.

Update: by the way, I notice that among Republicans who crossed over to vote in the Democratic primary, Obama won 70%-30%. Interesting. If there were GOP mischief makers who wanted to give Clinton some help, they got outnumbered by Republicans with some other agenda. Anyone care to speculate?

Patrick Says Obama's Clean on Plagiarism... Now Back to the Campaign

My post yesterday on the Clinton camp's allegations that Obama plagiarized his Saturday night speech in Wisconsin has drawn some discussion. Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, the source of Obama's apt turn of phrase, went on record with the NY Times to say it was no big deal. Today Governor Patrick went on ABC's Good Morning America to say straight up that Obama didn't plagiarize. Governor Patrick echoed Madville Times commenter FJ by saying that words matter, and that what matters is not who said the words first but that the words Obama used --the words Patrick says he asked Obama to use -- were right.

As I said yesterday, that's good enough for me. When the source of an allegedly plagiarized text says it wasn't plagiarized, well, then it wasn't plagiarized. I hereby pick my flag up off the field, put it back in my pocket, and blow the whistle. Back to the big game!

HB 1124: All Strings, No Cash, Says Chester Super

MDL offers Chester Superintendent Mark Greguson's perspective on HB 1124, the pending bill on minimum teacher pay and tiers. Short form: all strings, no cash:

"It was a last-minute, hurry-up attempt by the House to come up with some sort of education bill that promises more funding with way too many strings attached," Greguson said....

"If the state doesn't step in and help us, this is an impossibility for a lot of school districts," he said. "But the state does say they're going to fund it."

Passage of the bill, however, means less local control.

"If this bill passes, local control will be at an all-time low," Greguson said. "I thought one of the foundations of the Republican platform has always been more local control" [emphasis mine; Elisa Sand, "Bill Setting Minimum Teacher Salaries Takes Away Local Control," Madison Daily Leader, 2008.02.18].

There is another, simpler bill to increase teacher pay, SB 187. It simply raises the per student allocation 3.8% in FY 2009 to $4700 and requires that schools certify that they will raise their average teacher salary and benefits by at least the same percentage. No raise, or not enough of a raise, and the state only gives the school $4642 per student. That's still a string, but a lot less of a string than HB 1124's unfunded mandate of a minimum $30K salary and all the salary tiers Dr. Melmer would get to administer.

Student Research in Pierre Wednesday

Eighty-nine students from eight South Dakota institutions of higher learning converge on Pierre tomorrow (Wed, Feb 20) to present findings from their research. From 3 to 6 p.m. tomorrow, legislators and anyone else strolling through the Capitol Rotunda will have the chance to meet the researchers and read and ask about everything from Woody Guthrie's private correspondence to using argon to detect dark matter at the Homestake Lab.

If you'd like a full list of the students and projects coming to the poster session, you can download the session booklet in PDF format from USD. (Of course, it might jsut be faster to drive to Pierre and pick up a copy in person.)

I'll be with the 19-student-strong DSU contingent presenting a little research on "eGovernment" -- i.e., the fun we can have using computers and the Internet to make government work better. That's where my restless heart leads me: no kingdom of heaven on earth, just a citizen-legislator discourse system to help legislators organize all their research and help citizens have a bigger say in what happens in Pierre.

If you'd like to see what I'm working on, you're welcome to look at my online whiteboard. Remember, this is a work in progress, so you'll see a lot of journal articles and wild links, not to mention unedited egghead talk as I try to remind myself what I was thinking of. I'll also work on adding a Web version of my Pierre poster that won't take forever to download. And soon I might even work up an online survey so you all can be a part of the project and provide some input to guide what I'm designing.

In the meantime, if you're in Pierre tomorrow afternoon, drop by the Capitol, say hi, tell me what you think. One of the main principles my research and design are based on is that the government is us, that we citizens are participants, not mere consumers. Just like on the blog, your participation in my research is not just welcome, it's necessary!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Obama Plagiarizes? Don't Make Me Go There...

Just as I'm starting to think I can get behind a presidential candidate...

Clinton aide accuses Obama of plagiarism
[Mike Allen, Politico.com, 2008.02.18]

The text in question: Obama's ad lib to the Wisconsin Dems Founder's Day Gala Saturday night in Milwaukee:

Don’t tell me words don’t matter! ‘I have a dream.’ Just words. ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ Just words! [Applause.] ‘We have nothing to fear but fear itself.’ Just words — just speeches!

The source: Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, campaign rally, 2006.10.15:

But her dismissive point, and I hear it a lot from her staff, is that all I have to offer is words — just words. ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, [applause and cheers] that all men are created equal.’ [Sustained applause and cheers.] Just words – just words! ‘We have nothing to fear but fear itself.’ Just words! ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.’ Just words! ‘I have a dream.’ Just words!

Yeah, I'd bust Dwaine Chapel for turning that phrase. I should bust Obama as well. The Clinton aide making the charge, campaign communications director Howard Wolfson, makes the case well:

Sen. Obama is running on the strength of his rhetoric and the strength of his promises and, as we have seen in the last couple of days, he’s breaking his promises and his rhetoric isn’t his own.

When an author plagiarizes from another author there is damage done to two different parties. One is to the person he plagiarized from. The other is to the reader" [Allen]

Wolfson is echoing things DSU's Casualene Meyer and I have (no plagiarism here, I promise) about plagiarism. Plagiarism is a serious crime. And the crime might be compounded by the fact that this is not the first time Obama has used the text in question: he used the "Just words?" retort in a New Republic interview defending University of Chicago social scientist Saul Alinsky.

However, there's more to this story. Allen fleshes out the story with some background. Obama and Patrick apparently are friends and share ideas regularly. Governor Patrick himself has said so:

The Massachusetts governor said in a statement: “Sen. Obama and I are longtime friends and allies. We often share ideas about politics, policy and language. The argument in question, on the value of words in the public square, is one about which he and I have spoken frequently before. Given the recent attacks from Sen. Clinton, I applaud him [for] responding in just the way he did” [Allen].

Now this is a different story. Here we have the alleged plagiarist and source interacting closely. The source, Patrick, has given explicit approval of the plagiarist's, Obama's, use of the text for the specific purpose of responding to Clinton's attacks. Both Obama and Patrick are students of Chicago political strategist David Axelrod, who has advised both men's campaigns and for we all know may have had a hand in crafting the original message [see Scott Helman, "Patrick, Obama Campaigns Share Language of 'Hope,'" Boston Globe, 2007.04.16]. They share more than a chance line in a speech (and a darn good one, at that): they share political beliefs, strategies, and circles. This close relationship calls into question whether any harm was done.

So is it plagiarism or not? I don't want to give Obama a pass, just because I'm starting to like him as a candidate. I note that Obama himself is openly giving credit now to Deval for the line and says he should have done given that credit in the speech Saturday [see Nedra Pickler, AP, "Obama Says Borrowed Lines Not a Big Deal," Yahoo News, 2008.02.18]. Alas, the Obama campaign also tries a little "Everyone's doing it" defense, citing lines Hillary Clinton likes to borrow from his speeches.

Grrr. I am not happy. I see the plagiarism story is catching some wind on the blogs: perhaps we'll see a full-scale review of every candidate's speech texts and find some scary results. If they keep this up, I'll turn my attention back to agitating for a brokered convention, a Cleveland insurgency, and Dennis Kucinich back at the top of the ticket.

Update: 15:58 CST: I read a little further and find some more commentary on the plagiarism question:

--Jason Zengerle on the New Republic blog The Plank cites a December speech in which Obama noted that he and Patrick have stolen lines from each other regularly.

--David Kusnet, a former Bill Clinton speechwriter, tells The Plank Obama's statement comes nowhere near plagiarism:

To be condemned as plagiarism, a political speech needs to be grievously offensive--using lots of distinctive but little-known material from another source without attributing it to that speaker or receiving his or her permission [Kusnet, "Former Clinton Speechwriter Weighs In On Plagiarism-Gate '08," The Plank, 2008.02.18].

--Noam Scheiber notes the Patrick-Axelrod-Obama connection and catalogs some Clintonian line-filching (the latter is still no excuse).

--The Chicago Tribune's Swamp points to a New York Times interview with Patrick, who says he and Obama anticipated criticism of Obama's rhetorical strength and discussed responses. Patrick says he "shared language from his campaign with Mr. Obama's speechwriters." He also explicitly rejects the notion that Obama needs to give him credit:

“Who knows who I am? The point is more important than whose argument it is,” said Mr. Patrick, who telephoned The New York Times at the request of the Obama campaign. “It’s a transcendent argument” [see Jeff Zeleny, "An Obama Refrain Bears Echoes of a Governor's Speeches," New York Times, 2008.02.18].

At the point where the alleged victim does not press charges, the debate might be over. I've said the same about local instances of plagiarism: if the LAIC can show it has permission to reprint articles without attribution, then I raise no fuss. Governor Patrick is telling Senator Obama, "Use my stuff. Make the point. Win the argument." If Patrick knows about Obama's use of his language, and if Patrick doesn't mind, then I guess there's no scandal here.