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Teachers' raises possible, but money sources unidentified

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PIERRE | Teacher raises are possible in the next few years, a state education task force said on Wednesday, but members left out something important: where the money would come from.

Public school teachers in South Dakota might see their salaries increase $8,000 to $10,000 apiece over the course of three to five years under goals discussed by the governor’s Blue Ribbon task force on teachers and students.

But the panel of educators, legislators and businesspeople didn’t specify the tax package to generate the $80 million to $100 million that would be necessary. The members said they hoped to have financial data at the next meeting on Oct. 1.

In the past school year, South Dakota ranked last nationally for average pay to public school teachers at just over $40,000. But even a $10,000 increase probably wouldn’t be enough to move South Dakota up the ladder if the money were spread across three years or more.

Among the vague references to taxes at the Wednesday meeting was a mention of the state's 4 percent sales and use tax on most purchases. Each 1 percent generates about $220 million, according to the state Bureau of Finance and Management.

The task force also has been collecting information about whether South Dakota is in a teacher shortage. Statistics presented Wednesday showed South Dakota schools covered 99 percent of their needs in the past year but weren’t able to offer 240 classes.

Abby Javurek-Humig, director for assessment and accountability in the state Department of Education, delivered three key findings:

• State public schools will need an additional 3,059 teachers to maintain a 14:1 student-teacher ratio. Javurek-Humig estimated 1,024 teachers would retire and 1,434 would leave teaching for reasons other than retirement. In addition, because of estimated growth of the student population, schools would need an additional 601 teachers.

• She estimated South Dakota universities and out-of-state universities would combine to produce 3,124 new teachers. An additional 335 teachers would enter the profession through either the Alternative Certification or Teach for America programs.

• So Javurek-Humig concluded: “The estimated supply of teachers indicates the potential teacher pool will be 400 more than the minimal five-year need.”

Erik Person, superintendent of the Burke School District, said the 400 breaks down to 80 per year, and that might be inadequate. Not every teacher wants to teach in Sioux Falls and not every teacher wants to teach in Burke, he said.

Last month an academic researcher told the task force that teacher shortages in math, science and English have been common throughout the nation since the 1950s because there is high turnover in the profession.

Rep. G. Mark Mickelson, R-Sioux Falls, reminded members of that point Wednesday. “We’re not unique," he said. "What we pay is unique.”

School administrators are using what’s known as a plan of intent to cover holes in their staffing. Plans of intent allow teachers to work two years as instructors of courses outside their professional training.

Javurek-Humig said most teachers in South Dakota hold full certifications for everything they are teaching, but plans of intent can put teachers “outside their comfort zones.” Use of plans of intent is growing, she said.

A teacher can be involved in more than one plan of intent at a time.

Plans of intent increased from 548 in 2011 to 643 in 2014 and are expected to reach 758 this school year, she said. The number of teachers on the plans rose during the same period from 315 in 2011 and 300 in 2012 to 329 in 2013 and 373 in 2014.

Where the task force might head in its deliberations on Oct. 1 isn’t clear. Financial information will be brought back, such as estimates of costs and possible sources of tax revenue.

Some members want changes in the state funding formula. Some want efficiency requirements. Some want school boards to face new limits on the amounts of non-obligated cash that they hold. Some want compensation tied to mentoring. Some want property-tax relief. Some want capital-outlay tax levies on property changed.

Don’t settle for average, Aberdeen Superintendent Becky Guffin said. “We should strive to be extraordinary,” she said. 

The panel plans a final meeting Oct. 29 before delivering its report to Gov. Dennis Daugaard and the Legislature.

From that document, the governor and lawmakers will decide how to proceed in the 2016 legislative session that opens Jan. 12 and runs through March 29. Two-thirds majorities in the House of Representatives and the Senate would be needed for tax increases.

“I think it’s important we admit teachers are underpaid,” Sioux Falls superintendent Brian Maher said.

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