By Bob Mercer
Farm Forum Correspondent
PIERRE — The state House of Representatives gave final approval on Feb. 14 to a new state board that will govern South Dakota’s public technical institutes.
The vote was 65-2 in favor. Senate Bill 65 next goes to Gov. Dennis Daugaard for his decision whether to sign it into law.
Rep. Mark Mickelson described it as “a follow-on” to constitutional amendment R that voters approved in November.
Mickelson, R-Sioux Falls, said amendment R wasn’t necessary for the Legislature to establish the board. But, he said, without it the state Board of Regents could have exerted control over the technical institutes.
“The fear that the technical institutes have had is being turned into universities by the Board of Regents,” he said.
There are four public institutes, at Watertown, Mitchell, Rapid City and Sioux Falls.
They currently are managed by the local K-12 school districts while the state Board of Education governs their course offerings, tuition, fees and building plans.
Nine citizens appointed by the governor would comprise the new board, with four to be chosen from lists submitted by the four technical institutes.
Mickelson said the board would have the same authority that the secretary of education and the state Board of Education currently have.
Rep. Larry Zikmund, R-Sioux Falls, recalled his time as state director of vocational education for eight years. Zikmund said he and his staff sometimes wondered what they could do.
“Those tech institutes have come into their own,” Zikmund said. “We’ve tried to really answer the call of what business and industry wants and needs.”
Rep. Nancy York, R-Watertown, noted that Lake Area Technical Institute has been rated second and third in the nation. She said the technical school sometimes gets “on the back burner” because of the many other duties in a 3,000-student K-12 school district.
Rep. Tona Rozum, R-Mitchell, said the tech schools haven’t had much representation at the Legislature other than from their directors.
Rep. Liz May, R-Kyle, explained her past opposition. She said she is “more pro-tech school than college” but questioned the need to spend on a board and an executive director.
A fiscal analysis prepared by the Legislature’s staff estimated the costs at $16,125 for the board and $76,502 for the executive director’s salary and benefits.
“My biggest concern is taking this out of the local control,” May said. After further remarks, she drew laughs at the end: “As much as I hate to, I’m going to have to support this bill.”
Replied Mickelson, “I welcome the scrutiny.” He said she was “dead right” to focus on protecting local control.
Voters approved amendment R with 178,187 yes and 173,924 no. Mickelson had proposed the constitutional amendment. May wrote the ballot statement against it.
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