PIERRE | Jim Thares of Aberdeen and Joan Wink of Howes sailed through confirmation hearings Thursday by the state Senate Education Committee.
The panel vote was 6-0 on each. Their nominations to the state Board of Regents now move to the Senate consent calendar for consideration today.
The consent designation means senators are limited to questions. Any senator however could request today that one or both of the nominees be moved to the Senate debate calendar for next week.
The regents govern South Dakota’s public universities and special schools.
Gov. Dennis Daugaard chose Thares to replace Harvey Jewett of Aberdeen and picked Wink to replace Kathy Johnson of Hill City.
Last month some senators on the panel took verbal shots at the governor’s choices for education secretary and two slots on the state Board of Education Standards. But those once-choppy waters became smooth like ice on Thursday as Thares and Wink took their turns.
Thares, who grew up in Ipswich, began his professional career as a certified public accountant. He founded and is chief executive for Primrose Retirement Communities that operates 35 living centers for senior adults. He also farms.
Wink taught in schools during the first half of her career and was a university professor in the second half. Now retired, she is married to former state Rep. Dean Wink, the past speaker for the South Dakota House of Representatives.
Sen. Jim Bolin, the committee chairman, “strongly” urged a yes vote and said he hoped the outcomes would be unanimous.
“I think both of these nominees are excellent,” Bolin, R-Canton, said.
Patrick Weber, an aide to the governor, spoke in support. Weber described Wink as a recognized expert in languages.
Sen. Al Novstrup, R-Aberdeen, went to the witness table and said he’s known Thares about 35 years.
“As I think back, he’s come a long ways,” Novstrup said.
Novstrup described Thares as generous and a visionary.
No opponents testified. Sen. Phil Jensen, R-Rapid City, asked for their opinions of the Common Core framework used in South Dakota public schools.
Wink said she doesn’t like Common Core. She said she knows the topics on the Common Core-based assessments that students take during most of their K-12 years. She said everyone should have to take the tests so they might better understand what students face.
Bolin asked about remedial courses. Wink said she avoided math classes at Mobridge High School and at Yankton College.
“I’m just the opposite," Thares said. "I’m a numbers guy.”
Wink jokingly pushed him on the shoulder. Thares said ACT scores alone “can be overrated” when considered alone. Wink agreed.
“I would like us to look at other areas of their achievement,” she said.
Sen. Joshua Klumb, R-Mount Vernon, asked what would be the one thing each would change at the state universities.
Thares said he generally wouldn’t change anything but would like to see more collaboration and flexibility between campuses.
“That’s a great question,” Wink replied. “I never thought about it before.”
She said she wouldn’t change anything, either, but she would like a broader look at student qualities.
“Student leadership," she said. "I think that’s really important.”
Thares said less than four percent of the $1.2 billion that’s been invested on the campuses in the past 20 years came from state government.
“They’re all very important. They all have their mission,” he replied to a question about whether there were too many campuses.
South Dakota has six state universities and three university centers.
Jensen asked whether some building expansions at state universities should be reconsidered because the projects require additional fees on students.
Thares said his philosophy is, "You have to invest if you expect a return."
“You’ve got to have the facilities, the infrastructure,” he said.
Wink said she agreed with Thares.
“I believe we’ve got to have the political will to invest in our future,” she said.
Wink said she’s been “astounded” by the money donated for buildings. Thares also noted the private donations that flow into scholarship programs.
Wink said she has “a lot of years teaching tired students” who worked at jobs and raised children while fitting college classes into the spare hours.
Thares said online teaching has provided opportunity for nontraditional students.
Jensen said: “I’m really pleased with the quality of the choices we have this time.”
Sen. Deb Soholt, R-Sioux Falls, said she and her family lived 11 years in Aberdeen.
“I am too very pleased with the quality of the candidates, both of them,” Klumb said.
Soholt said Wink added “a perspective that is new and different.” She said Wink’s marriage to a four-term House member had exposed her to “a better understanding” of the politics and policies.
Soholt said Wink was proof that people who show up get the chance to shape the results.
“It was about gumption. It was about being people of integrity together,” Soholt said.
Sen. Jeff Monroe, R-Pierre, said Thares opened the kind of business serving senior citizens that Monroe, a chiropractor, had wanted to start.
“When you learn math, it makes you able to discern everything,” Monroe said.