PIERRE | State government’s new panel that oversees teacher salaries in South Dakota’s public schools decided Tuesday to revisit one piece of a package of proposed rules.
The School Finance Accountability Board met by teleconference, in response to action May 1 by the Legislature’s Rules Review Committee. That day, legislators, on a 3-2 vote, told the board to try again.
The committee’s lawyers — Sen. Lance Russell, R-Hot Springs; Rep. Steven Haugaard, R-Sioux Falls; and Sen. Craig Kennedy, D-Yankton — want "appeal" better defined.
Board member Patrick Weber volunteered Tuesday to speak with the committee’s leaders. Weber, an aide to the governor and a lawyer, wants to understand why the rules got hung up.
“I’m a little concerned we don’t have enough clarity,” Weber said.
The consensus among board members Tuesday became that the state education secretary would decide appeals. “I just don’t know where we’d send it otherwise,” said Eric Stroeder, a board member from Mobridge.
The five board members agreed they would hold a public hearing at 1 p.m. June 29.
Weber said his conversations with legislators would include fact finding. “I want to have some more clarity from them if that’s the solution they seek,” Weber said about the proposal to assign appeals to the secretary.
Tami Darnall, the fiscal officer for the department, asked that she or another person from the department be part of any conversation that Weber has with a legislator.
Melody Schopp currently is secretary. She has served in that role since December 2010, when then Gov.-elect Dennis Daugaard appointed her as an interim replacement for Tom Oster, who wasn’t retained.
Schopp was deputy secretary when Daugaard appointed her. Daugaard also named an advisory panel to assist in the search for a permanent secretary. He ultimately chose her.
The Legislature created the School Finance Accountability Board in 2016, as part of the package of changes that raised South Dakota’s sales and use tax to 4.5 percent and dedicated some of the money for raising teacher compensation.
The rules proposed by the board this year include a process for school districts to submit waiver requests to the department. A waiver would grant an exemption to a school district from one or more of the salary-increase requirements.
The waiver requests would go to the board for its recommendations. The board’s recommendations would then be transmitted to the Legislature’s appropriations committee for approval or denial.
Those decisions by legislators would be final, according to the proposed rule.
But the lawyers on the legislative Rules Review Committee wondered whether the appropriators’ decisions could still be appealed to circuit court. State law provides court appeals for many administrative decisions.
One question, raised in this instance, is whether legislators on the appropriations committee would be acting on the waiver requests in an administrative role or in their constitutional authority as legislators.
A related question is whether the appropriations committee could speak for the full Legislature. The appropriations committee has nine senators and nine representatives. The Legislature has separate chambers with 35 senators and 70 representatives.
Also unclear is timing of when the education secretary would get the waiver requests.
Schopp, a former elementary teacher and school board member for nine years at Lemmon, worked her way to the top during the 18 years she’s been at the state Department of Education.
She began as a roving “tech chick” that went town to town, teaching school personnel to use new computer and video-conferencing systems, during then-Gov. Bill Janklow’s late-1990s-era wiring program.
She kept rising during the subsequent administration of then-Gov. Mike Rounds from 2003 through 2010. She eventually reached division director for the department’s office of accreditation and teacher quality, and then became deputy secretary.