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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Republicans, School Choice, and Consolidation

More evidence that South Dakota Republicans see education as an expense, while Democrats see education as an investment....

A conversation with Dr. Carl Fahrenwald, superintendent of the Rutland School District, got me thinking about an interesting contradiction that has bubbled up on the District 8 campaign trail. Dr. Fahrenwald has been working hard the last few years to keep his small school alive by marketing it aaggressively to parents in surrounding communities. Rutland's ads in the Madison Daily Leader have portrayed Rutland as a good alternative for parents who want their kids to receive more one-on-one attention from teachers in a small, tightly-knit community. A number of area parents have chosen that alternative, helping Rutland grow from 110 to nearly 130 in just a couple years.

Republicans should be all about that sort of school choice. Yet here in District 8, all three of our Republican legislative candidates appear to oppose school choice. State House candidates Jerry Johnson and Patricia Stricherz have both said they'll consider closing and consolidating small schools (granted, Johnson's mention was a slightly more oblique reference to "answering tough questions," but if a politician wants the Rutland/Ramona/Woonsocket vote, he'd better make sure the word consolidation appears in close proximity to no, not, and never). State Senate candidate Russell Olson has voted to make it happen, forcing the closure of Conde and several other school districts.

School choice is rare in South Dakota. Even in our biggest city, there are only six high schools (plus Joe Foss if you go all Ponyboy on us). Miner County is one school district. And out in Faith or Bison, school choice means deciding whether you're going to play hooky or not. Why would Republicans want to make school choice even harder to obtain here in South Dakota?

South Dakota Republicans will offer you nice rhetoric about "parental choice and local control," but, just like George W. Bush, they aren't willing to put their money where their mouth is. The only way they can think of to find more money for one school is to close another. In District 8, the Democrats running for the Legislature—Scott Parsley, Gerry Lange, and Mitch Fargen—have all three stated their determination to find the funding to support the schools we have. And in our state, that means it's the Democrats who are the real supporters of school choice.


  1. In the larger picture then, would they support school vouchers? If they are truly in favor of school choice, they will.

  2. Oh NO! my dear man..let me tell you what I have really been saying..I have not ever suggested that closing schools was an option. I have, however, suggested consolidating them. My suggestion was to put three communities together as one school district and seperate elementry, middle school and high school by community. This allows for student population per school, which helps with funding and prevents any school from closing. South Dakota is one of 25 states that uses the foundation/base formula for calculating school funding. 17 states use the same formula but a modified version and the remaining 12 use various other formulas. With this in mind, I have a hard time caluclating where and how we ended up at the bottom of the totem pole for school funding in the nation. There is a lot to take into factor here. not all 50 states use the same base formula. So what I am saying here..its based on school population for funding. Consolidate and increase population.

  3. To Patricia Stricherz: Please explain how it will save money by simply redistributing the kids according to elemetary, middle, nd high school, while keeping the same number of schools/buildings, etc. It will be the same total number of kids, same total dollars from the state, same upkeep and expenses for three different schools.

    It would only save money if the number of schools were less, not just by rearranging them.

    Also, have you looked at the fact that any unused money allocated for K-12 at the end of a year is tossed back into the state general fund and recycled into next year's state aid to K-12 education? So in essence the state doesn't pay as much money as the claim to. I think any unused funds at the end of a year should be given back to the school districts on a simple per student basis and let the individual school districts decide how best to use that money - could be for teacher bonuses, etc. I've never been able to get a straight answer from anyone on this.


  4. As a graduate of Bison HIgh School, a school referred to in this article, I can tell you that there is a great deal of choice for parents. With the geography of the Bison District, one of the largest in the state, many parents are faced with actually being closer to another school than going into BisonThe district routinely pays the tuition for remote students to go to such schools as Harding County, Reeder and Hettinger, ND, Lemmon, Isabel, Faith and Newell. Still other parents will send their children to larger districts such as Sturgis and Spearfish and have them stay with relatives.

    To put it quite honestly, Patricia's idea is crap and has been floated before out our way, except on a larger scale. I would challenge Patricia to find Bison on the map and tell me which 2 towns you go in with. Keep in mind the following: Buffalo - 55 miles away; Faith - 53 miles; Lemmon - 45 miles.

    One more thing. I graduated from a class of 24. 19 of us took the ACT test and averaged 25.8, with 3 of us scoring over 30. Please don't tell me from a school standpoint that bigger is better.

  5. Wow! Didn't realize that by trying to find a solution would result in getting beat up. First let me apologize to those outside of District 8, when I made my response I was narrow minded within the 100 miles of District 8 and not focused on the entire picture of South Dakota. I realize that this does touch all of South Dakota and not just my area of residence. Next..I would much rather find a sloution to consolidate then to close any school, I see education as a valuable investment for our children and closing schools has an effect on so many.


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