Potential teacher workforce needs lead into the first full-fledged discussion of possible proposals had by the Blue Ribbon Task Force at their recent meeting.
The group tasked with the extensive review of the state’s teacher shortage and school funding issues, learned in the next five years, to maintain a 14-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio, South Dakota will need more than 3,000 teachers to keep up with projected enrollment growth, teacher retirements and individuals leaving the profession.
The South Dakota Department of Education, which gathered the data for the presentation, shared the figure with the task force along with an estimate that the state would have more than 3,400 teachers in the pool to meet the need.
“I think we need…not such a slim margin to say that is adequate,” Burke Superintendent Erik Person said of the estimate, which was reached through a combination of in-state graduates, out-of-state candidates and alternatively certified teachers.
A survey conducted in May by the School Administrators of South Dakota found for 2015 teacher openings school districts received nearly 800 fewer applicants than they did the previous year.
S.D. DOE data also noted 249 positions were open at the start of the 2014-15 school year, which resulted in more than 40 classes being cut from schools during the year.
Watertown High School English Teacher Steve O’Brien said the first day of school vacancies revealed schools were “starting off in a hole.”
The troubling trend of the shrinking teacher pool is not exclusive to South Dakota, as states across the U.S. are seeing some decline in candidates.
“We’re not unique,” Rep. Mark Mickelson said. “What we pay is unique.”
The shortage in South Dakota is closely tied to low pay, with the state ranking last in average teacher pay in the nation.
“I think it’s important we admit teachers are underpaid,” Sioux Falls Superintendent Brian Maher said.
After lengthy small group discussions, task force members waded into a pool of possible solutions to the teacher pay and school funding issues as talk included a potential increase to the sales tax raise to raise average teacher pay over a period of three to five years and a funding formula paying on a per-teacher basis.
Additional ideas were presented and Task Force Co-Chair Rep. Jacqueline Sly said the group would get “a little deeper in the weeds” at the group’s October 1 meeting.