Superintendent has harsh words for Daugaard budget

Criticizing Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s budget approach as “half-assed,” Sioux Falls Public Schools Superintendent Pam Homan is asking lawmakers to seek out accurate information and craft a budget that spares K-12 schools.

Speaking on Monday before the Downtown Rotary Club, Homan said state support for education has lagged during the past 15 years compared to Medicaid and the rest of state government. Daugaard’s plan to cut the per-student allocation and most other state programs by 10 percent would result in “underserved children and a poor-quality education system,” she said.

An audience member asked what Homan would do if she were in Daugaard’s position.

Video: Watch a replay of Monday’s Rotary meeting

Update: Committee OKs bill that would reduce cuts to K-12 schools

First, she said, she wouldn’t have proposed widespread cuts after campaigning as though the state had no budget problem. Next, she’d make sure she had accurate information and prioritize spending, she said.

In reference to Daugaard’s recommended 10 percent cut to education and other programs, she related advice from her father, who told her: “‘Pam, if you’re going to do something half-assed, don’t do it at all.’ And so, I wouldn’t make across-the-board cuts.”

Daugaard’s policy and communications director, Tony Venhuizen, said someone who attended the Rotary meeting contacted the governor when it ended. Daugaard had spoken to the same group two weeks before, and the caller informed him that Homan disputed certain claims about education spending.

Daugaard then called Homan, who agreed to a meeting Thursday in Pierre.

“It’s important that we first agree to the facts before we have a policy discussion,” Venhuizen said. “The governor is pleased that he’s going to have that opportunity.”

Responding to Homan’s criticism, Venhuizen said the governor is following through on campaign promises to cut spending without raising taxes. And a budget that eliminates a $127 million structural deficit in one year is “anything but half-assed,” he said.

Throughout her presentation Monday, Homan attacked the governor’s rhetoric, playing audio and video clips of Daugaard’s budget address and a TV interview, then explaining how he got it wrong. She said she “gasped” when Daugaard told lawmakers that the 10 percent state aid cut was only a 5.4 percent cut to total K-12 revenue; it’s unfair to count money meant for special education or construction, she said.

Homan offered statistics that show per-student spending in Sioux Falls is 28 percent lower than similarly sized districts, administrative spending is 27 percent behind, and teacher pay – third-highest among South Dakota’s 152 districts – is lower than all but two states.

Yet some argue “schools need to tighten their belts,” she said. “I find that extremely offensive.”

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