- Associated Press - Monday, February 3, 2014

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - Nearly three-quarters of South Dakota school superintendents responding to a survey believe low pay is an important reason they are having trouble hiring and keeping teachers, according to a survey released Monday by groups representing school districts.

Superintendents from 130 of 154 districts responded to the survey sponsored by the Associated School Boards of South Dakota and the School Administrators of South Dakota. The two organizations plan to use the survey results in their effort to persuade the Legislature to boost state aid to school districts.

Nearly 92 percent of the superintendents said they believe it has become more difficult to find qualified applicants for teaching jobs in the past three years, with about 79 percent saying the pool of applicants has been inadequate because of the number or quality of those applying. Schools have had particular problems in finding adequate teaching applicants in math, science, foreign language, English, special education and career and technical education programs.

While 73 percent of the superintendents said low pay is an important reason people do not apply for teaching position, 70 percent said pay is also an important factor in why teachers leave their district.

South Dakota had the nation’s lowest average teacher salary in the 2012-2013 school year at $39,580, far below the national average of $56,383 and substantially below average paychecks in neighboring states, according to the U.S. Education Department.



About half the South Dakota superintendents said increasing pay would enhance the number and quality of people applying for teaching jobs.

Rob Monson, executive director of the school administrators organization, said South Dakota teachers are leaving because they can earn more money teaching in nearby states or in non-teaching jobs.

“You’ve got great teachers in front of these students, and they’re leaving the profession to go into private industry because they can double or triple their income,” Monson said.

Joel Jorgenson, superintendent of the Hamlin School District, said he got about 50 applicants for any elementary teaching job a decade ago, but only got nine last year. For middle school and high school openings, he got about four applicants 10 years ago, but got a total of four applicants for three positions in special education, English and art last year.

Low pay is big factor in the drop in college graduates in teaching fields, Jorgenson said.

“We’ve been very fortunate. We have a great staff, but it’s getting to the point where I’m afraid at some point I’m not going to be able to say that just because of the lack of applicants we have out there right now,” Jorgenson said.

School officials are joining with statewide education groups to ask the Legislature to boost state aid to schools by more than Gov. Dennis Daugaard has recommended.

The Republican governor’s budget would boost state aid to schools by nearly 3 percent next year, nearly double the inflationary increase required by law. But the education groups are asking lawmakers to instead provide a 3.8 percent increase, which would put spending per student back where it was before budget cuts were made in 2011.

State aid was frozen in 2010 and cut in 2011 as part of Dauagaard’s plan to slash most state spending by 10 percent. Because of some changes made by the Legislature, the effective cut to school districts in 2011 was 6.6 percent.

The 3.8 percent boost, proposed by a legislative study panel that met last summer, would require the state to spend $5.3 million more than the governor has recommended.

Senate Majority Leader Tim Rave, R-Baltic, said low pay likely plays a role in any teacher shortage, but the state’s low unemployment rate also probably causes a shortage in applicants. He said the Legislature may provide more than a 3 percent boost in state aid, but it’s unlikely to go all the way to a 3.8 percent increase.

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