PIERRE | A majority of members in the South Dakota Senate stood with the governor Monday and confirmed three appointees to state Department of Education posts.
Senators voted 26-7 for Don Kirkegaard as secretary of education. He was Meade School District superintendent. On Jan. 2, he replaced Melody Schopp as secretary.
Former Rep. Jacqueline Sly, R-Rapid City, was confirmed 25-8 to a four-year seat on the state Board of Education Standards. She is a retired teacher.
The Senate voted 31-2 for Becky Guffin to replace Kirkegaard on the state Board of Education Standards. The Aberdeen public schools superintendent takes Kirkegaard’s seat for the one year left on his term.
Gov. Dennis Daugaard is in his final year of office. Had the Senate rejected any of the three, he could have appointed someone else after legislative session ends in March.
Sen. Jim Bolin, R-Canton, in his role as chairman of the Senate Education Committee, asked for confirmation of Kirkegaard and Sly.
Sen. Al Novstrup, R-Aberdeen, called on the Senate to confirm Guffin.
“She’s an outstanding candidate for this position,” Novstrup said.
No one spoke against Guffin or Sly.
Thirteen senators spoke on Kirkegaard’s nomination.
Their comments split over two primary issues: His support of Common Core framework for K-12 standards while on the state board; and his ties to the GEAR UP scandal.
Kirkegaard told the Senate panel last week about four administrator searches he conducted for a firm run by Rick Melmer and Tom Oster. They preceded Schopp as education secretaries during the Rounds administration.
Sen. Phil Jensen, R-Rapid City, voted against all three. He led opposition against Kirkegaard, citing South Dakota’s weak results on K-12 assessments and its nation-worst status on Native American education.
Jensen defeated Sly in the 2016 Republican primary election for the Senate seat.
Sen. Troy Heinert, D-Mission, said Kirkegaard has promised to visit every Native American school in South Dakota this year and would seek ways to work with them on improvements.
Sen. Lance Russell, R-Hot Springs, voted against Kirkegaard and Sly. He said Kirkegaard’s nomination symbolized “a failure on a catastrophic level.”
The question, Russell said, was whether senators would fulfill their constitutional roles on governor’s appointments or “abdicate” them.
Voting against Kirkegaard were Jensen, Killer, Nelson, Otten, Russell, Stalzer and Tapio.
Opposing Guffin were Jensen and Maher.
Voting against Sly were Jensen, Kolbeck, Monroe, Nelson, Otten, Russell, Stalzer and Tapio.