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Kevin Woster

Kevin Woster

Let’s just say it was all Tim Mitchell’s fault. The snow day, I mean.

A big part of a columnist’s job seems to be assigning blame, even in instances where that assignment is difficult.

Some might argue that it’s a stretch to blame current weather-related school closures on Mitchell. He resigned in June of 2016, after all, following six years as Rapid City public schools superintendent and social-media pinata.

While he was here, Mitchell got blamed for just about everything school related, including alleged fiscal mismanagement. Oddly enough, he also passed a string of financial audits and was named South Dakota school superintendent of the year by a jury of his peers in the South Dakota School Superintendents Association.

Go figure.

While you’re doing that, I’m figuring to forget Mitchell’s award and his 2016 departure and blame him for the snow day on April 3, a closure that seemed even more inexplicable than the previous one back in February, when I ended up with a house full of rambunctious grandkids.

Now, some closures are obvious. Take Friday, with a blizzard and 40-mph winds likely, it made perfect sense. But that April 3 closure? I looked around and added things up: four inches of snow plus light winds plus clear skies equal: “Yeehaw, no school today!”

Must be that new math.

To be fair, there were some icy conditions, especially on the west side of town. And ice is bad for school buses and possibly dangerous for the kids they carry. So caution is called for. I tried to remember that as I rescheduled my planned journalism work for the day so I could manage a fourth-grade grandson at home.

But it was hard to keep perspective as I drove past Wilson School at what would have been morning start time, under clear skies on easily passable streets.

Fair or not, you tend to blame somebody for imposed inconveniences — preferably someone official. I thought about blaming current Superintendent Lori Simon, who sits at the desk where the snow-day buck stops.

But I don’t know Simon well enough to criticize her unfairly. So I’m going to stick with what we know best: blaming Mitchell. It always worked before.

We blamed him for poor teacher morale, poor communication, poor teacher pay and any problem magnified in the district by a long-standing state financial imbalance that led Gov. Dennis Daugaard to make a bunch of cuts, including in state aid to local schools.

How could Mitchell possibly be responsible for school-aid cuts? Apparently, you didn’t follow social media back in the day. It was all there, generally unburdened by the pesky constrictions of logic and fact.

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Meanwhile, back at that April 3 snow day, I settled into the familiar comfort zone of blaming Mitchell, even if he was 545 miles away at Riverside Community School District in Oakland, Iowa. Just to be fair, though, I reached out to him on Facebook with my allegation.

Turns out he wasn’t 545 miles away after all.

“I’m in Mexico on a spring vacation,” he replied with a smiley faced emoji.

Oh sure, the old “I was in Mexico” excuse. Who hasn’t used that? Well, besides me, I mean. My excuse is “I was in Beulah.” Not as impressive, but cheaper. And the burgers are better.

And listen, I know it’s tough to make the right call on school closures, especially in an environment where the weather ranges from unstable to schizophrenic.

It’s getting worse, too, by the way. And I believe it’s because of climate change, which I also blame on Tim Mitchell.

Old habits die hard.

Kevin Woster writes a blog and offers radio commentary for South Dakota Public Broadcasting. He can be reached by emailing kevinwoster@rushmore.com.

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