Monthly Archives: August 2011

Regarding the state Department of Education

That the Legislature’s rules review committee told the state Department of Education “do-not pass go” on the teacher evaluation rules Tuesday is hardly a setback, because this is a state law that must be followed or repealed, and thus the rules will eventually get through the committee or be suspended altogether until the 2012 legislative session. But the situation does reflect a deeper problem that has become increasingly evident at the department in the past eight years.

The teacher-evaluation process was ordered by the Legislature in 2010 with a deadline of July 1, 2011, for the department to implement rules. The original legislation, SB 24, was sponsored by the department and the Rounds administration. Lawmakers overwhelmingly backed the final version 58-12 in the House and 32-2 in the Senate, and Gov. Mike Rounds signed the legislation into law on March 9, 2010. The department had nine months to get the plan in order before Rounds’ time in office ended, but the work didn’t get done. That Gov.-elect Dennis Daugaard made clear he wouldn’t retain Education Secretary Tom Oster perhaps didn’t help, but that didn’t become clear until after the November election. What was happening between March and November 2010? I would expect some legislators might now ask that question. Deputy secretary Melody Schopp eventually was promoted to the top post by Daugaard. There again, under the third secretary in three years, the department failed to timely act. The rules, which are nothing more than a copy of the nationally-recognized Danielson program for teacher responsibilities, weren’t submitted to the state Board of Education in time to meet the July 1, 2011, deadline set in state law. The department is still working on the hard part of developing a process for school systems to use and then providing the training.

That so many months were allowed to pass with so little action is a reflection of broader challenges that were clear within the department during the first years of the Rounds administration when Rick Melmer was secretary of education. Rounds in his first year brought in Tom Hawley, who is one of the pros in teacher education in our state university system, on an interim basis to evaluate the department and redesign it. Tom was intended as a transition on a temporary basis, and he returned to the university system (and now is at Northern State University). Rounds hired Melmer, who was superintendent at the Watertown school district, and a lot of the redesign was, well, redesigned again. The charismatic Melmer made a lot of believers in state government, but he left the department as he continued his career climb and was chosen dean of education at the University of South Dakota, where president Jim Abbott had been struggling to get the ship on course. What was left behind was a mess. Melmer and Rounds had launched their 2010E program for education, with many goals that weren’t accomplished — to the point where the web pages that were supposed to show the progress on the goals didn’t get updated. 2010E was essentially left to wither. Why things didn’t get done on 2010E isn’t clear. The Legislature resisted the laptop program, but there were other pieces where follow-through seemed to evaporate. Whether the department has too much to do, or doesn’t have the right people in the right spots, or has some other challenges isn’t clear from the outside. In the case of the teacher-evaluation rules, the department’s original version of the legislation had a Jan. 1, 2011, deadline, but the final version gave an extra six months. Even that proved not enough. The bottom line is, given the department’s performance under the Rounds administration, we probably shouldn’t be surprised that teacher-evaluation didn’t get put into place on time, even though it was a department-sought change, and even with a 15-month window for developing the rules.

Recommended reading: Principle Over Party

A book about South Dakota political history doesn’t promise to be scintillating, but you’ll be repeatedly surprised by retired USD professor R. Alton Lee’s look at perhaps the most important era of our statehood in this book, subtitled The Farmers Alliance and Populism in South Dakota, 1880-1900. The heart of the book in many ways beats in the chapters about the elections of Andrew Lee as governor, when Democrats, Populists and free-silver Republicans came together for the Fusion ticket. The book’s main characters are Henry Loucks and Alonzo Wardell, but the rest of the cast is a who’s who of South Dakota’s formative politics. Published by the South Dakota State Historical Society Press, the book could serve as the basis for a course in any middle school or high school or college regarding South Dakota’s political roots. Historian Lee (SDSHS Press says the writer isn’t a descendent of the governor) had great material, as reflected by the 35 pages of notes and a nine-page bibliography. Here’s one example of the nuggets that are found. The author tells us how the governor, in an attempt to curry favor in Populist-edited newspapers across South Dakota, established a requirement that insurance companies publish as paid notices their financial status annually. This backfired when the governor’s appointed commissioner of insurance sided with Republicans and the insurance ads went to Republican-edited newspapers instead. This law, by the way, remains in place but in a somewhat different form, with the insurance commissioner directed to require that a summary for each company be printed three times in a legal newspaper within each judicial circuit of the state where the company has a licensed insurance producer. Now we know the back story of how that came about!

Changes for UI board

The state’s Unemployment Insurance Advisory Council gets two new members in Timothy Fitzgerald of Rapid City and Shawn Lyons of Pierre. The governor’s appointees succeed Mark Merchen of Rapid City and Bob Riter of Pierre. The council played a big role in recent years as South Dakota’s unemployment insurance program went broke, needed a federal loan, accepted additional federal aid in return for somewhat broadening eligibility, and turned to surcharges and rate system adjustments to get back into the black. The council operates under the state Department of Labor.

Transportation Commission gets new member

John Kranz of Mitchell quietly resigned recently from the state Transportation Commission. According to other commission members, he no longer would be living in the district that his seat represents. Today Gov. Dennis Daugaard named a successor: Mike McDowell of Madison, general manager for Heartland Consumers Power District. Kranz had been on the commission since 2005 and previously served on the state Game, Fish and Parks Commission. Kranz represented, and now McDowell does, the area covering Aurora, Bon Homme, Brule, Buffalo, Charles Mix, Clay, Davison, Douglas, Gregory, Hanson, Hutchinson, Jerauld, Lake, Lincoln, McCook, Miner, Minnehaha, Moody, Sanborn, Turner, Union and Yankton.

Choosing words

Over at the Madville Times site blogger Cory Heidelberger takes on TransCanada’s XL pipeline proposal and the U.S. Department of State’s environmental analysis of the project, and closes with the following sentences:

“TransCanada is raping prairie landowners. That seems a pretty important socioeconomic impact. Yet our Department of State ignores that rape. And alas, with 300%+ increases in property tax revenues, South Dakota’s county officials seem inclined to do the same.”

Growing U.S. refinery demand helps drive XL pipeline

The federal government’s environmental impact statement released Friday on TransCanada’s proposed XL pipeline has some highly interesting information. The pipeline, which would be TransCanada’s second new one from Alberta to the Gulf Coast refinery region of the south-central United States, includes a planned “marketlink” project in eastern Montana, near the North Dakota border and north of the South Dakota corner, that would carry up to 100,000 barrels per day flow from the region’s oil fields in addition to the Alberta crude. The report says TransCanada has long-term commitments in place at this time to take 65,000 barrels per day from the Bakken marketlink and could accept as much as 100,000.

The XL pipeline would start in Alberta, go through Montana, and then travel across western and south-central South Dakota on its route into Nebraska and states south. According to the environmental statement, the Gulf Coast district’s 58 refineries have capacity of 8.4 million barrels per day, which is described as nearly half of the nation’s refining capacity. In 2009, the Gulf Coast refineries imported 5.1 million barrels per day, with the top four suppliers being Mexico. Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria. Of those imports, approximately 2.9 million barrels per day were heavy crude similar to the crude that XL would carry. The report says Mexico and Venezuela were the major suppliers. According to the report’s executive summary: “However, imports of heavy crude oil from these two countries have been in steady decline while Gulf Coast refining capacity is projected to grow by at least 500,000 bpd (barrels per day) by 2020, with or without the proposed Project.” The pipeline’s capacity could be as much as 830,000 barrels per day, with most of the oil coming from Alberta tar sands.

What happens next is a 90-day public comment period leading to a final federal decision whether the XL project is in the national interest. If all federal agencies don’t agree, the final decision rests with President Barack Obama. The timeline issued Aug. 26 with the environmental impact statement sets that final decision for December. That timeline might vary depending upon what happens in federal court.  “Whether to approve this pipeline is the most important environmental decision President Obama will make before the election,” Friends of the Earth president Erich Pica said in a statement issued Friday by a coalition of organizations opposing the pipeline’s approval. The Heartland Institute, which supports the project, took a different view: “Environmental activitists are attempting to draw a line in the sand on this project to force the president to make an adverse permit determination, but in doing so they are overstating its environmental significance,” the institute’s John Monaghan said.

Suicide by cop

After a Pennington County sheriff deputy shot and killed Scott Mollman last spring, the investigation found that Mollman reportedly had texted of being ‘suicided by cop.’ The investigation into the killing of Daniel Tiger as he shot to death two Rapid City police officers and wounded another has found that Tiger reportedly had spoken of committing ‘suicide by cop.’ Four men dead, two more forever directly affected, all of their families crushed or deeply hurt. This is more than suicide.

Dave Ploof

Regarding the retirement of Dave Ploof — and from what we read and hear, the retirement wasn’t planned — after 47 years as head coach for the Rapid City Post 22 American Legion baseball team, I have just one question: No offense to the next coach, but do the parents and Post 22 supporters who wanted him out really think they will be getting someone better? Let the countdown begin for Post 22′s next national championship.

A mistake in Capitol Notebook

The word “not” is missing from a statement attributed to state Transportation Commission member Bob Benson in the Capitol Notebook column about highway funding. Benson said the economy isn’t strong enough for a tax increase to get through the Legislature. I apologize for the mistake.