Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, Aug. 17

Downtown baseball stadium could be home run

For a while now, there has been chatter about the possibility of building a baseball stadium in downtown Sioux Falls and scrapping the current "Birdcage" near the Denny Sanford Premier Center.

There is more urgency to the discussion now that the rail yard acquisition and Sioux Steel relocation have freed up more space for development. But the concept of relocating the Canaries has failed to gain significant momentum in the minds of key decision-makers.

We think it's time to take a hard look at making the move.

The Canaries, members of the independent American Association, currently play at Sioux Falls Stadium in the Premier Center complex, where they list their average attendance at 2,542.

Building a new venue could help breathe new life into the city's baseball scene, which thrives on fan experience rather than wins or losses, while also sparking more downtown revitalization.

It would require a combined effort between the team, city and private interests to create a unique setting not just for baseball but also summer activities and family events.

Sioux Falls architect Tom Hurlbert pushed the multi-use concept with a blog post detailing several possible stadium locations, including one north of Sioux Steel that would mesh nicely with Falls Park and the Levitt Pavilion, scheduled to open next year.

If there was ever a time to support a public-private initiative to create a fan-friendly venue while also freeing up space at the Premier Center complex by razing the old stadium, this is it.

Proponents point to the success of the St. Paul Saints' $65 million downtown ballpark, which opened in 2015 and has helped the team dominate the rest of the league in attendance (8,257) while also selling out non-baseball events.

The Sioux Falls ballpark model would be more modest, perhaps in the $15-20 million range with traditional seating for about 5,000, following the basic blueprint of Haymarket Park in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Any talk of a "Ball Park at Falls Park" fizzled under former mayor Mike Huether, who was reluctant to support another public sports facility on the heels of the events center. He and others noted that the Birdcage received a $5.6 million face-lift as part of a joint effort between the team and city in 2000.

Realistically, though, those renovations are now nearly two decades old, and the ballpark, which originally opened in 1964, has lost whatever charm it once possessed. In an era of more sophisticated fan amenities and expectations, just how far out of date will it appear in a decade?

Rather than calling this Plan B for those who sought a downtown events center, let's just say it's a separate decision that makes sense. Putting a reasonably sized ballpark downtown is more logistically feasible than a hulking events center, not to mention the role that the convention center played in the Premier Center equation.

Downtown baseball fits the strategy of getting people to linger at bars, restaurants and shops during warm-weather months, and parking and traffic will be lesser factors than they were with the events center.

As we saw during that process, it's imperative for City Hall to set the tone for major projects. It makes sense for Mayor Paul TenHaken and his staff to take a close look at prospective design elements and get behind the possibilities.

"If you love downtown Sioux Falls and want to see it continue to grow and prosper, this could be a once-in-a-lifetime catalyst," wrote Hurlbert.

Couldn't have said it better ourselves.


American News, Aberdeen, Aug. 19

Standards-based report card idea gets a passing grade

A plan by the Aberdeen public school system to offer more detailed report cards gets a passing grade.

The concept sounds smart.

The district will start using standards-based grading and report cards at elementary schools for the 2019-20 school year. Instead of teachers issuing a traditional letter grade for a (sometimes generic) subject, the new report cards will offer a proficiency number for a specific skill.

For example, instead of a kindergartner getting an S for satisfactory in language arts, she or he might get a 4 in the use of upper and lower case letters and a 2 in spelling simple words phonetically.

Students in more advanced grades would get a number instead of a letter grade.

Under the new system, 4 — distinguished — is the highest score. Three reflects mastered, 2 developing and 1 beginning.

"It just really lays a clear path and feedback for parents and students on what skills they have mastered," Camille Kaul, assistant superintendent, told school board members at their Monday meeting.

In an era of standardized testing (whether we like it or not), this seems like a good idea for everybody involved.

All South Dakota students in third through eighth grades and in 11th grade take some form of the Dakota STEP test. Any idea that helps them be better prepared for it is worth exploring.

The new grading procedure is not something to make everybody feel better about themselves by not issuing letter grades.

And while it could mean more work for teachers, the aim is not to overwhelm them, either, and we certainly hope it doesn't.

The point is to help students and let parents know what their kids need to spend more time studying or working on.

When a student has mastered a skill, he or she will move on, Kaul said. But if a child gets a 1 or a 2, the teacher will present the information in a different way in hopes that will help comprehension.

"Parents can see exactly what their their students know and are able to do," Kaul told school board members.

Better information for parents is hard to argue with. And we hope the new grading system encourages them to get involved with their kids while they study.

The change will take getting used to for some, but it feels like a common sense move.

Students won't waste time on disciplines they already have a handle on and, as a result, will have more time to brush up on areas in which they need to improve.

Eventually, the new grading system could be used throughout the district. But for now, school officials have scheduled three informational meetings for parents ...

Instead of bucking a new idea that seems to have promise, we encourage parents to take time to learn more about it.

Maybe there are hidden hurdles that will hinder the new system. If so, the school district can always return to the traditional letter grades everybody knows.

But for now, we applaud the district and school board for embracing an idea that, at least to us, seems to have a very simple, logical and worthy goal — getting more detailed information to parents so students can do better in their classes.


Madison Daily Leader, Madison, Aug. 20

If tariffs are taxes, why isn't Congress engaged?

Tariffs on a wide range of products are in the news these days, which causes us to wonder about the process of how they are enacted and modified in the United States.

A tariff is a tax on imports or exports between sovereign states (countries).

A brief history:

Before the 1920s, tariffs were more common, providing a major source of revenue for the federal government. They were a constant source of debate for members of Congress, who went back and forth on what products should be subject to tariffs, the amounts and what the money should be used for.

When the Great Depression hit, international trade shrank drastically. Congress imposed increased tariffs through the Smoot-Hartley Act to try to protect American businesses. It backfired. Canada, Britain, Germany, France and others retaliated with their own tariffs and American imports and exports went into a tailspin.

In 1934, the U.S. Congress, in a rare delegation of authority, authorized the executive branch to negotiate tariffs. For the next seven decades, tariffs ratcheted lower, promoting free trade and boosting economic growth in the U.S. and other countries. Notable was the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993 and allowing China into the World Trade Organization in 2000.

Today, new tariffs have been enacted by the Trump administration for a broad and expanding range of imported products, such as steel, aluminum, automobiles, newsprint paper and others. Other countries have retaliated by enacting tariffs on American products such as corn, soybeans, beef, airplanes and many others.

The back-and-forth tariff-raising process, considered a "trade war," was originally intended to protect American businesses which have fared poorly against foreign competition. In recent weeks, however, tariffs have been enacted for other purposes, such as to apply pressure to release an American pastor in Turkey. They now appear to be a favorite fighting tool for a president who looks for fights.

It's still possible this trade war eventually leads to improved trade agreements between the U.S. and other countries. But we wonder if all the authority for this sort of fight, which has a huge economic impact on Americans of all sorts, should be solely with the administration. Other sorts of taxes require the approval of both Congress and the President.

While we don't have a lot of faith Congress could come to reasonable agreements, either, perhaps involving Congress could provide balance to what has become a one-man fighting tool.