A run-off vote is underway for president of the South Dakota Education Association (SDEA), and retired Yankton school teacher Linda Stevens is taking a shot at the post.
SDEA elections were initially held at the end of April with an inconclusive result for the organization’s three-year presidential term. Though Stevens was ahead of her competitors by 165 votes, she was five votes shy of the 50% required to claim a victory.
The run-off for SDEA president between Stevens and Loren Paul of Pierre began last week and results are expected to be announced at the end of this month.
Stevens, an educator and SDEA member for the last 42 years — 32 of which were spent teaching at Beadle Elementary School — noticed on planning her retirement that the SDEA was holding elections. She took it as a sign to reach for what she hopes will be the next thing after a career in education, she said.
“There are a number of reasons why I want to do this,” Stevens said. “I feel very strongly that this organization has helped to advocate for education in the state of South Dakota. I want to do this job because I want to advocate for our members, both active and retired, and I want to advocate for our students.”
Advocating would involve participation in an ongoing dialog with South Dakota’s state legislators as well as the National Education Association (NEA) in Washington, D.C.
“I want to put South Dakota education on the forefront of our legislative body,” Stevens said. “I want to help them to understand how important it is to support our public schools.”
As SDEA president, Stevens would also work with the group’s membership to determine and meet the needs of both educators and students, she said.
SDEA membership includes teachers, Educational Support Personnel (ESPs) and, in some school districts, Direct Support Professionals (DSPs), which could include secretaries, bus drivers, lunchroom staff, librarians and paraprofessionals.
Despite placing well in the first vote, Stevens has continued to work hard to win the run-off.
“I’ve been doing mailings,” she said. “I have made hundreds of phone calls and I’ve sent hundreds of emails.”
She has also gathered endorsements on her own “Linda for SDEA President” website, she said.
“I have taught in small school districts and large school districts; I have been president of our local association; I have worked with school boards; I have worked with the teachers in our association and in other organizations,” Stevens said. “I feel like I have a good understanding of what educators need in order to have an outstanding school system.”
Stevens said she believes it is important to examine how money is appropriated and how public schools are funded in South Dakota.
“Right now, we’re basically funding per student,” she said. “I think we need to think outside the box for other ways that we can fund our schools. I think the step that we made in the half-percent sales tax was definitely a step in the right direction.”
Thinking outside the box, Stevens said, will involve building a team of people.
“I don’t feel like I have all the answers, but I do feel I have the ability to find experts, to find a good team to help figure out what we can do to fund our schools adequately and make sure that we have great schools in our great communities.”
Having a team behind her, Stevens said, helped get her campaign to where it is today.
“I have a wonderful team of people who have helped me in this endeavor,” she said. “I always say ‘It takes a village to educate a child.’ Well, it takes a village to get someone elected, and I am so proud of my village.”
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