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     Blue Ribbon Task Force — A task force or committee, generally a group of people brought together to solve or advise on some important topic. —

The telephone rang about 6:45 p.m., so I knew there was a good possibility it was a telemarketer.

Katie (not her real name) said that she was calling from Northern State University in Aberdeen.

Naturally, she wanted money for the university’s foundation.

Katie is a junior at Northern, and is fulfilling her dream of becoming an English teacher.

When I inquired about her future plans, her voice bubbled with excitement. She had decided years ago that teaching was her calling, primarily because of the educators who influenced her during her high school years.

Then I got to the money question: Will you stay in South Dakota?

Answer: Perhaps for awhile. She loves her home town, and the state, but frankly, dollars and cents are a concern.

I do not know if this young, enthusiastic education major will be an excellent or even a good teacher. My guess is that she will. She brings a key ingredient required for success in any field: a positive attitude.

How to improve teacher salaries so that our state is competitive with other states has been a thorny issue for as long as I can remember. When video lottery was introduced in the 1990s, there was an opportunity to earmark those funds for teacher salaries. In part, that is how legalization of gambling was sold to the public. But the earmark didn’t stick. Property tax relief moved to the head of the line, and while lottery funds in that sense were used for education, teacher salaries continued to lag.

The winds of change are blowing. The atmosphere seems more receptive than ever to address low pay for teachers. However, the Blue Ribbon Task Force fell well short of its assignment. It said salaries should be better, but offered no recommendations on funding. It said more money was needed for pay, and addressed benefits, as well as student-teacher ratios, but in the critical area of funding, it was silent, except to say it didn’t like the present funding formula. In that, the task force got it wrong. There is nothing wrong with the present funding formula for K-12 education other than it is underfunded.

Were I grading this special committee, I would give it a “C.” But since it was a “Blue Ribbon” task force, I invoke a 4-H guideline – a ribbon of white, well behind blue and red, to describe its disappointing level of accomplishment.

Nov. 4, 2015