School board: Only Thoelke and Parker are fundraising

Last year’s campaign finance reports for the Sioux Falls School Board election were awfully uninteresting.

Doug Morrison raised and spent $0. Debbie Hoffman did the same.

Yawn. (I bet you yawned just now. Sorry.)

This year, two candidates are fundraising and two are not.

Leading the money race, as of April 3, is newcomer Todd Thoelke. The Sioux Empire’s Realtor of the Year had picked up $4,691 in direct contributions (he’s spending it too) plus $678.40 in-kind. Most of his money comes from his industry:

-      $2,000 from RPAC, the National Association of Realtors’ political arm

-      $200 from Hegg, his employer

-      $250 from HJN Realtors

-      $200 from Ken Dunlap of Key Realty

-      $100 from Tony Erickson of Hegg

-      $100 from Tony Ratchford of “group” fame

 

Kate Parker, the race’s lone incumbent, is raising money too.

She had $2,425 left over from her 2009 election and picked up another $2,495 this time around.

The largest donor was Bob Thimjon ($250), a former board member and regular campaign funder who has served on the district’s “finance action committee.”

Ken Allender hadn’t raised any money as of April 3 but had spent $183 of his own money.

Hoffman again is soliciting and spending no money.

My last blog, posted Monday, was about former school board member Debbie Hoffman taking $75 from the school district for doing an interview with KELO-TV.
KELO’s Katie Janssen did her own story on the matter on Tuesday. Janssen reported she spoke off-camera with Hoffman, who gave this explanation:
(Hoffman) did say she was very careful in what she  chose to expense while serving on the school board. She also says she  did two more interviews with KELO News in the two months that followed,  one about the budget and another about Hoffman’s school board campaign,  and she didn’t expense either one of those. 
It’s true Hoffman did not expense the campaign interview, which would have required some serious gumption, but she did get paid for the April 13 budget interview. The above minutes show that, as well as some of the other meetings that board members invoiced.
For what it’s worth, the budget for board member pay is $33,750 this year, down from $37,700 last year. That’s because budget cuts reduced the number of paid meetings from 100 to 90, so each member can expect about $6,750 this year, down from $7,500.

My last blog, posted Monday, was about former school board member Debbie Hoffman taking $75 from the school district for doing an interview with KELO-TV.

KELO’s Katie Janssen did her own story on the matter on Tuesday. Janssen reported she spoke off-camera with Hoffman, who gave this explanation:

(Hoffman) did say she was very careful in what she chose to expense while serving on the school board. She also says she did two more interviews with KELO News in the two months that followed, one about the budget and another about Hoffman’s school board campaign, and she didn’t expense either one of those.

It’s true Hoffman did not expense the campaign interview, which would have required some serious gumption, but she did get paid for the April 13 budget interview. The above minutes show that, as well as some of the other meetings that board members invoiced.

For what it’s worth, the budget for board member pay is $33,750 this year, down from $37,700 last year. That’s because budget cuts reduced the number of paid meetings from 100 to 90, so each member can expect about $6,750 this year, down from $7,500.

Should we pay a school board member for doing a TV interview? 
On March 21, the Argus Leader published a story I wrote about a proposed change in Sioux Falls School District policy  concerning searches of teacher’s personal property. Teachers were upset  with the policy, and they eventually got their way.
After our story ran, KELO-TV did its own story on the same subject. Katie Janssen spoke with the union president and  with Debbie Hoffman, one of two school board members who serve on the  policy review committee.
For that TV interview, Hoffman later submitted a claim to the school  district’s business office for $75. During the April 25 board meeting,  the rest of the board approved that claim.
I’d never seen that before. An elected official was paid for  participating in a TV interview. She was paid not by the TV station,  which is another matter altogether, but by the tax-supported governing body on which she serves. In other words, us.
I’d have written a story about it, but it turns out our Brenda  Wade-Schmidt basically did the same story for the newspaper in 2003. She  wrote:
“Sioux Falls School Board members get paid for reading to  elementary  school children, attending Chamber of Commerce events, doing  newspaper  and television interviews, and handing out diplomas.
Last year, the five members earned $31,680, ranking them among the highest paid school boards in the state.
They earned payments for attending dozens of meetings. But they  also  were paid for activities such as attending a press conference with  Gov.  Bill Janklow, taping a program for the district’s OWL-TV station  and lobbying legislators in Pierre, an Argus Leader analysis of district  pay records shows.
That story did not lead to a change in district policy - or perhaps more to the point, state law - although I’ve noticed it’s fairly rare for board members today to submit claims for payment.
The statutory language that allowed Hoffman to get paid is as follows: The per diem may be paid for each meeting actually attended by such member and also for each day a member was actually engaged in the service of the board when authorized by the board.
If it weren’t for KELO, Hoffman would not have been “engaged in the service of the board” on that Monday.

Should we pay a school board member for doing a TV interview?

On March 21, the Argus Leader published a story I wrote about a proposed change in Sioux Falls School District policy concerning searches of teacher’s personal property. Teachers were upset with the policy, and they eventually got their way.

After our story ran, KELO-TV did its own story on the same subject. Katie Janssen spoke with the union president and with Debbie Hoffman, one of two school board members who serve on the policy review committee.

For that TV interview, Hoffman later submitted a claim to the school district’s business office for $75. During the April 25 board meeting, the rest of the board approved that claim.

I’d never seen that before. An elected official was paid for participating in a TV interview. She was paid not by the TV station, which is another matter altogether, but by the tax-supported governing body on which she serves. In other words, us.

I’d have written a story about it, but it turns out our Brenda Wade-Schmidt basically did the same story for the newspaper in 2003. She wrote:

“Sioux Falls School Board members get paid for reading to elementary school children, attending Chamber of Commerce events, doing newspaper and television interviews, and handing out diplomas.

Last year, the five members earned $31,680, ranking them among the highest paid school boards in the state.

They earned payments for attending dozens of meetings. But they also were paid for activities such as attending a press conference with Gov. Bill Janklow, taping a program for the district’s OWL-TV station and lobbying legislators in Pierre, an Argus Leader analysis of district pay records shows.

That story did not lead to a change in district policy - or perhaps more to the point, state law - although I’ve noticed it’s fairly rare for board members today to submit claims for payment.

The statutory language that allowed Hoffman to get paid is as follows: The per diem may be paid for each meeting actually attended by such member and also for each day a member was actually engaged in the service of the board when authorized by the board.

If it weren’t for KELO, Hoffman would not have been “engaged in the service of the board” on that Monday.

Voting “none of the above” for school board

One of the fun things about looking at election results is the number of “others” – voters who over-vote or under-vote. That’s especially fun when there’s only one race, as was the case with the May 24 Sioux Falls School Board election.

With one seat available and two candidates, it should have been pretty straight-forward: Fill in either the circle next to Doug Morrison’s name or Debbie Hoffman’s name and turn in your ballot.

Yet, seven of the 4,090 people who took the time to vote did otherwise. Two chose both candidates; five chose neither.

Again, that’s five registered voters who traveled to a voting center, scanned the two candidates’ names and turned in an empty ballot.

Perhaps their pencils broke. Perhaps they were expecting to find a space for a write-in candidate. Perhaps they thought they were voting on an opt-out resolution.

More likely, these were protest votes – er, non-votes.

The candidates made little effort to distinguish themselves from one another, offering no public criticism of the other and spending no money on a campaign (according to pre-election campaign finance reports). Both candidates have served on the school board before, so attentive voters knew what they’re getting.

The under-voters remind me of a teacher I talked to briefly in April 13, 2010, during the last school board election. That year, the school board race shared a ballot with the mayoral primary. This anonymous teacher told me she didn’t vote for any of the school board candidates, saying: “Pam Homan has so much power, and I don’t think any of them will stand up to her.”

(originally published June 13, 2011 at argusleader.com)


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