“I don’t take this as somebody teaching me a lesson.” (Kent Alberty, President of the Sioux Falls School Board)

The voters of the Sioux Falls School District just completed an election that may have influence beyond the border of this school district.

  1. It will be hard for surrounding districts (Brandon, Tea, Harrisburg, West Central, Sioux Falls Catholic Schools, etc.) to not adjust their schedule. Sioux Falls School District is the big elephant. So many practical considerations like when summer sports programs start and finish will now be adjusted. Plus, you have summer job considerations because employers will prefer young employees who want to start after Memorial Day and can work through Labor Day. Who wants to hire a kid early who will leave early?
  2. School boards around the state will better appreciate parents can over-rule when their concerns are ignored.
  3. Isolated “small” events often have impacts that reverberate and grow. The phrase “You can’t fight City Hall” just got a reality check. Dismiss and show disdain for your constituency can be met with a firm, organized, and motivated army.

To the extent the argument blossoms beyond the Sioux Falls School District, I think the arguments will be the same. The question is will they be handled differently in other school districts.

Pre-Labor Day argument as presented by the Sioux Falls School District:

  1. COLLEGE TESTING & SCHOLARSHIPS: Pre-Labor Day is positive for Advanced Placement and many college-bound students competing for premier college entrance and scholarships because testing is completed by Christmas and scores will be better.
  2. NATURAL SEMESTER BREAK: Pre-Labor Day is positive for Jr. & Sr. High students as semesters end before Christmas break and after Christmas break, new semesters can begin.
  3. ELEMENTARY STUDENTS: Pre-Labor Day or Post has no effect on teaching in the elementary schools.

Post-Labor Day argument as presented principally by Wendy McDonnel and Christine Erickson:

  1. Family considerations and priorities
    1. VACATIONS: Warm summer weather is basically 14 weeks long (Memorial Day to Labor Day). Starting school prior to Labor Day compresses the time available for family vacation time by almost three weeks because Labor Day is no longer able to be included in the vacation schedule.
    2. SUMMER LIESURE: May is too cool for swimming pool and other outdoor summer activities for children which again impacts summer leisure activities for children.
    3. FAMILY REUNIONS: Extended family reunions are usually scheduled for maximum participation. This requires coordination of disparate schedules. Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day are three ideal scheduling opportunities. If school starts, there are only two ideal scheduling opportunities.
    4. FAMILY FINANCIAL CONSIDERATIONS: Especially in two-income families and families of more limited means, “days-off” matter. Allowing these families to utilize Holidays for vacations and visiting family positively impacts the family budget or allows possibly a family vacation with a couple hundred more dollars in the kitty. Losing one of only three Holidays is not insignificant for such families.

First, I think it wholly appropriate that the administration of the Sioux Falls School District would advocate and be passionate about a Pre-Labor Days start. To large degree, college testing, scholarships, and sending graduates to college is the culmination of 13 years of “doing their job.” I have not always agreed with Pam Homan but I’m appalled how she has been criticized and thrown under the bus by her School Board and deserves better. She did exactly what one would expect from a Superintendent- advocate what she thought best AND support the position of the School Board.

Second, parents have a broader set of priorities. While appreciating and supporting the value of a good education, parents don’t want their child to just be as smart as possible or get in the best colleges or get the most scholarships. They want their child to be balanced with a broad range of experiences. They want their child to be connected to extended family. They want their child to be instilled with their family values. Summer is when parents set the agenda and have the most unfettered opportunity to form their children as they see fit.

Third, I think it appropriate that the School Board would look at the issue beginning with the what they believed was net-net best for students as students. However, the School Board isn’t just a reflection of the administration but they are also a reflection of parents’ priorities beyond education.

This is where things got off track when the School Board took the intransigent position that AP college testing, scholarships etc. became the only measure of what is good for the children under their care and whether one places a priority on education with no consideration of parental priorities. The School Board should be looking at these children as more than students but also consider them as members of a family and society needing more than just a good education.

In the real world, there are very few issues so transcendental that all other considerations can be ignored.

  • As important as education is, does anyone think the money spent on social services for the homeless should be cut so we have more money for education?
  • Is good testing of AP students so critical that we should cut remedial programs so these seniors can have a private tutor for a year?

My stomach turns when I hear/read the following comments from School Board members or people like Stu Whitney at the Argus who show DISDAIN for parents who give family considerations and broader formation of their children priority.

Re-elected School Board Member Todd Toelke: “It shows the concern of the almighty dollar over education.”   Sure I get that tourism, retailers, summer leisure businesses wanted a later start date. But, if that is all he got out of the vote, I’m pretty sure he isn’t listening to his primary constituents- the parents of the children entrusted to him.

A person I over-heard on TV this morning. I didn’t get his name: “The voters spoke that they value when they get to take their vacation more than educating their children.” (Paraphrase)

Stu Whitney at the Argus Leader whose article today exemplifies the disregard for the “Voice in Local Control” group’s concerns and views:

  1. Equating “save our summers” with “summer fun.” Mr. Whitney, I don’t know what you remember from your summers as a child but here are some of the things I remember just from the summer of 1970:
    1. The day after school ended and over Memorial Day, a trip to Black Hills, seeing Mt. Rushmore for the first time, finding out Needles Highway wasn’t needles used to sew but stone needles, and seeing my first alligator and bear.
    2. A month living on the farm with my grandparents where I watched my Grandpa tend to the fields and cattle, ride horses with him, buy bulls, drive to Pierre & Mobridge for machinery parts, and watch him “doctor” sick calves and pigs. I’m more the man I am today from that month than I got out of any month in school.
    3. Right before school started and over Labor Day, a trip to Minneapolis for a week with my Uncle Nip’s family, go to my first and only Twins game until I was out of college and watched my favorite all-time player Harmon Killebrew hit a foul ball within six seats of us, went up on top of the Foshay Tower thinking I could see South Dakota in the distance, and getting an ice cream cone at a Dairy Queen.
  2. Asserting this was a choice between “books vs. beach.” My children are now adults but I have four Sioux Falls grandchildren. They aren’t going to any beach and the assertion the “beach” or frivolity was the priority of my daughter and son-in-law is offensive. Their other grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins live in Kansas City. Nearly every holiday during these years because the children are young, they go to Kansas City. Christmas, Easter, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving. They know when they are older these trips will be fewer. For them, the choice was “AP testing vs. Family.” Mr. Whitney, it’s not even a close call.
  3. Overplaying the school date was about Tourism or money. Mr. Whitney, roughly 1/3 of your article today was dedicated to linking the issue to tourism. I know it is popular in politics to disparage opponents by attributing to them nefarious motives like greed. Maybe you don’t know Wendy McDonnel but Sioux Falls is still a just a big town. She is just one of our neighbors with sincere motives. You really should get to know her. You will be better for it.

But, not once did “Voice in Local Control” even hint it was about tourism. You have a new job where your focus isn’t just high school sports. You need to expand your circle of influence. I talked with literally dozens of people who wanted a later start date and not once was tourism or money mentioned. If that had been the primary justification, this would have been soundly defeated. If you don’t know that, you should. If you know that, your article was intellectually dishonest and slanderous.

Elections come and go. Top of mind issues come and go. Whether this decision was the “right” decision can be debated.

But, this effort led by Wendy McDonnel, who once was a cute little girl with a big smile and pig tails, just might be one of those efforts that ripples in ways we can’t foresee:

Family matters and one might want to pause before taking on a mother told otherwise.  Its a lesson I learned the summer of 1970 when I got between a cow and her calf.  


10 thoughts on ““I don’t take this as somebody teaching me a lesson.” (Kent Alberty, President of the Sioux Falls School Board)”

  1. This is a prime example of our system of govenment should work. The voters should have the final say on an issue such as this.

    If voters have disagreements as to how they are governed, then the referendum is a great tool to make changes.

    Congratulations to all who participated in the voting process.

    1. May be a win-win for other area schools as they may get some of the SF school district enrollees who did not like the vote. Or people may just get tired and home school.

  2. One question in this debate that I do not think had adequate ( if any) coverage: How much influence do the teachers and their associations/unions affect the start date?

    I question whether the unspoken issue of Christmas break with no papers to correct or no semester tests to prepare for is really the issue? If the semester ends after break, I assume there is more work to be done during break? Could this be the unspoken issue?

  3. What you didn’t mention here is that Pam Homan submitted 3 years worth of school calendars and the school board approved them!! That is what got this whole ball rolling and the initative for the vote. That is the irritation with Pam, this was a power grab on her part.

    I have many disagreements with Pam with regard to decisions she made within her purview, including her willingness to decide imperially. However, this is one the board made. It was the board’s decision. And, then the Board threw her under the bus rather than owning the decision. I feel sorry for her successor. TJ

    1. You really should look into her replacement–Brian Maher.

      He refused to accommodate a KPS teacher who desired to take off 10 days–5 personal days and 5 UNPAID days–for a Christian retreat. KPS had made similar accommodations before, and of course, did & does so for pregnant teachers.

      KPS terminated the teacher.

      He’s a bully.

  4. The thing that bothers me most, is that the election re-elected Todd Toelke. He was opposed to this issue without discussion and now, in this article, he is quoted as ‘re-elected School Board Member Todd Toelke: “It shows the concern of the almighty dollar over education.” ‘.

  5. ““It shows the concern of the almighty dollar over education.” ‘.

    Unless its the SF Ed. association (the teachers union) whining about their pay–then its education regardless of the dollar!

  6. ““It shows the concern of the almighty dollar over education.” ‘.

    When did Toelke become so darned concerned about the dollar? He didn’t care when they hired the new supt. at an obscene salary.

  7. If Toelke is so offended by the almighty dollar, maybe he should try running the school district with unicorn farts.

Comments are closed.