South Dakota Teacher Shortage Raises Alarms

In a survey of South Dakota public schools released last week, 20% had at least one unfilled teaching positions on the first day of school. There were 31 district superintendents who said they had one open position, but the number could be higher than that since 9% of the state's 151 districts did not respond, says Kevin Burbach of the Associated Press.

Education advocates and officials have asked the legislature to respond to the teacher shortage, citing low pay, relocation, and retirements as deterrents to proper staffing. One group of officials has even suggested adding a one-cent summer sales tax to be used toward increasing teacher salaries.

According to the National Education Association, South Dakota ranks last in the nation for teacher pay with an average of $39,018 compared to a national average of $56,103. One district superintendent had to hire a soon-to-be education undergraduate who cannot start until December after she graduates. For this semester, the district cannot offer a Family and Consumer Science course. Superintendent Pat Kraning of the Estelline district said:

"What we're seeing in South Dakota right now is a perfect storm scenario. We're not attracting enough new teachers and we're losing veterans in key areas."

Districts have had to be creative to fill the teacher position gaps. Patrick Anderson, reporting for the Argus Leader, says 20 districts hired a teacher from a neighboring district. Twelve used long-term substitutes, six used short-term substitutes, and eight used student teachers.

KSFY-TV reports that Kraning himself is doing double duty. He is not only the superintendent of the district, but is also the principal of the Estelline High School. LouAnn Jensen, a 14-year veteran teacher, explains that teachers with 8-10 years of experience are leaving and going into private business positions so that they can make more money. She adds:

"When I started we were a very stable staff, about half the staff had 8 to 10 years of experience," Jensen said. She says she thinks a school's staff is better if it is diverse. "You need a good mix in your school system. You have some seasoned veterans that can mentor those younger teachers along. You need that experience and that continuity. If you have all young teachers in your school system, you kind of lose some of the history and tradition."

The Associated Press reports that the group who suggested the one-cent sales tax hike wants to create the Teacher Salary Enhancement Fund separate from the state aid fund. This week the proposal was presented at the Legislative Planning Committee and estimates are that it would generate about $40 million annually.

The executive director of the Associated School Boards of South Dakota, Wade Pogany, said that the fund might be one possible way to solve the South Dakota teacher shortage. Rob Monson, the executive director of the School Administrators of South Dakota and Mitch Richter from the South Dakota United School Association, agreed that the increase in salaries is necessary if college graduates are going to stay in South Dakota. They are hopeful that it will draw out-of-state teachers, as well.

The legislators on the committee, although pleased with the groups approach, emphasized that more research would be needed before moving forward.

"Your model is solid and it's just a matter of us to keep drilling into the details and talking through the scenarios," said Rep. Scott Munsterman, R-Brookings, who chairs the committee.

In order for schools to be eligible for the Teacher Salary Enhancement Fund, schools would have to be at or under a certain low-level of reserve funding, be under the minimum base salary, and commit half of their per student allocation dollars they receive above a 2% increase. In addition, the proposal mandates a $250,000 to be appropriated to the Department of Education to be used for promoting the teaching profession and attracting prospective teachers.

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