I am going to write today on one issue which in my mind would change the course of education in South Dakota more than any other single thing we have done in the past 30 years. For starters I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that during my tenure on the Eureka School Board we endured more grueling hours of trying to find a way to increase teacher pay than any other one item in the budget process. Once a base salary is established the ongoing revenue needed to continue that base pay affects every other position in the teacher portfolio and becomes the norm for hiring any needed new teachers. What we found was that in order to continue hiring good teachers we needed to be above the base pay state average in order to obtain anyone who wanted to teach in a public school system far away from any shopping malls. That same theory works on a state wide basis when salary becomes the focal point for anyone looking at teaching here.
The monies South Dakota receives from the gambling revenues generates about $100 million per year. That money gets placed into the general fund for property tax reduction which does in fact alleviate counties and school boards from having to raise that proportioned amount within their mill levy request. My idea is to tap into a small percentage of those gambling revenues on an ongoing basis putting it all into an irrevocable trust fund and once there is enough interest generated send a certain amount to every K through 12 teacher in South Dakota raising the base salary with a perpetually growing fund. Remember, though, that for every plus there is an opposite-occurring minus and the downside is that local effort in every county and school district would need to very slightly increase their request for tax appropriations to cover the five or ten percent taken out of the gambling revenue.
Had the gambling fund been established originally with all the revenue placed into an irrevocable trust we would now have over $two billion in that fund and the interest income would be more than the gambling revenue we generate from all sources today. Sometime along the way someone needs to stop the shortsightedness and look to long-term solutions to our low teacher pay in South Dakota. This plan would be a great start in correcting that problem by directly increasing the salaries of those directly responsible for student achievement by increasing the number of teachers looking for work in our South Dakota school systems.