- Associated Press - Thursday, July 21, 2016

Yankton Daily Press and Dakotan, Yankton, July 19, 2016

Teacher pay: only the beginning

At long last, the effort to address South Dakota’s embarrassing last-in-the-nation standing in teacher pay is seeing the light of day. It’s no longer just a talking point or a rider in a piece of legislation. It’s no longer a measure bouncing around in Pierre, waiting to be derailed by some committee or chamber vote.

It’s here. It’s happening.

More importantly - and this is very crucial to remember - it’s just begun.

School districts across the state are reworking salaries to give raises to personnel, as detailed in Saturday’s Press & Dakotan. Schools across this region are giving average raises of roughly $5,000 to their educators. (There are variations between the districts.) Some schools have also decided to spread a little of this overdue aid to non-teaching personnel as well.

All this is possible thanks to legislation that increased the state sales tax by a half-penny, with 63 percent of the revenue devoted to boosting teacher salaries. Meanwhile, 34 percent goes to property tax relief and 3 percent is earmarked for technical schools.

South Dakota’s $38,580 average teacher salary during the 2014-2015 school year was, yet again, dead last in the country. The goal of the adjustment is to take the average up to $48,500, which would make this state far more competitive with neighboring states and, hopefully, address the teacher shortage many school districts are experiencing.

So, this is all good news.

At least for now.

The thing that must be remembered is that this, indeed, can only be a beginning.

In effect, this must represent a change of behavior and an alteration in thinking in terms of how the state seems to sometimes regard the value of education.

If this is seen as just a one-time fix that doesn’t have to be addressed again for a decade or two, we’re doomed to spiral back to the bottom of the national heap once more. Nothing will have been gained if this state fails to maintain a competitive wage.

“The changes made this year don’t take care of the full general fund deficit,” Yankton Superintendent Dr. Wayne Kindle told the Press and Dakotan. “The state can’t let up on this and let the surrounding states continually increase teacher pay and have South Dakota not keep up. We would lose what little ground we have made. I think they have very good intentions in Pierre to make it work and keep the state’s teacher pay competitive.”

So, the progress won this year on this sore spot of an issue must not be allowed to stall. It’s up to lawmakers to see to that, and it’s up to the public to hold legislators accountable.

___

The Daily Republic, Mitchell, July 21, 2016

Oh, that wicked heat

South Dakota is unique in its weather patterns.

The old saying, as many know, is, “If you don’t like the weather here, wait 10 minutes.”

Well, the latest weather - this ridiculous heat - is getting awfully draining. And that comes from a writer who sits inside an air-conditioned office. We feel for those whose jobs require them to spend the day in the heat and bear these horrible temperatures.

On Wednesday and Thursday, south-central South Dakota reached triple digits, with heat indexes jumping beyond 110 in some places. Unbelievable.

Earlier this year, the region saw nasty thunderstorms that crushed grain fields with hail and flooded others.

About six months ago, the Mitchell area saw days well-below freezing, including some when wind chills were into the sub-digits.

According to research by the National Climatic Data Center, South Dakota is tied with Idaho for the sixth widest gap in the nation between record high and low temperatures. South Dakota’s gap is 178 degrees.

Yes - this is the state that we all choose to live in.

And maybe it’s just because the heat is here now, but these triple-digit temperatures seem significantly harder to handle than the frigid winter months.

That’s why we’re thankful at this time of year for the technological advancements that have helped us deal with weather extremes, specifically heat.

Without air conditioning on a day like Thursday, it’s nearly impossible to function.

The internet on our mobile phones allows us to know exactly when and where severe thunderstorms will strike.

But common sense is key, too. During the heat, grab a cool drink and wear a hat. Make sure pets and kids are safely inside cool homes, and not in locked vehicles.

Yes, weather can be wicked here, and we’ll always have to adjust to it.

We certainly know that this week, and we’ll see it again this winter.

___

Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, July 21, 2016

Let patients decide on their security

The recent assault conviction of a nursing assistant brings into focus the need for legislation to protect the elderly and disabled who live in assisted-living facilities in South Dakota.

When two women suspected a relative was being abused at Sturgis Regional Senior Care, they took matters into their own hands by placing a video camera in her room. The camera recorded images of the 66-year-old disabled woman being suffocated and struck numerous times by a 62-year-old man who was supposed to be providing care, not terror.

Those images are “disgusting,” said Meade County State’s Attorney Kevin Krull, who added the video brought tears to some members of the grand jury that indicted the man.

The nursing assistant later pleaded guilty to three felony charges of abuse or neglect of an elder with a disability. He was sentenced to 10 months in prison and ordered to forfeit his certified nursing assistant license.

For some, the sentence was not harsh enough, but at least the abuse has ended, and hopefully this woman will never have to endure such cruelty again.

The conviction hinged on the videotaped recording that, like the assaults, is a violation of state law, meaning the victim’s relatives could have been charged with a crime for taking a step to protect an extremely vulnerable loved one.

The law, apparently intended to protect a patient’s privacy, was not enforced by Krull who focused instead on obtaining a conviction and sending this man to prison.

But as long as this law is on the books other families whose loved ones are in assisted-living facilities will have to worry about being prosecuted if they take the same step, which seems unconscionable if we value the safety and security of people who have difficulty caring for themselves.

Video cameras are used by many homeowners and businesses to provide security and deter wrongdoing. Those who live in assisted-living facilities or their legally-appointed guardians should have the right to make that same choice, as well.

The difficulty of prosecuting elder abuse has become a significant concern in South Dakota. In many cases, the elderly and disabled feel powerless to protect themselves and may be unable to even testify in court.

In 2015, the Legislature approved a bill that led to the creation of the South Dakota Elder Abuse Task Force, which made recommendations that led to a new law aimed at protecting senior citizens and punishing those who take advantage of them.

According to South Dakota Supreme Court Chief Justice David Gilbertson, who was instrumental in getting the task force formed, only one in 14 cases of physical, emotional and financial elder abuse gets reported nationwide as many of these crimes occur in private settings.

The 2017 Legislature should work to further protect senior citizens and the disabled by passing a bill that allows those living in assisted-living facilities or their legal guardians to install cameras in their rooms if they choose to do so. It should be their decision, not the state’s, to determine if privacy or safety is the top concern.


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