The finish line is within reach for the Blue Ribbon Task Force.
Sen Deb Soholt, a Co-Chair of the Task Force, said on the most recent episode of SDPB’s South Dakota Focus, which also featured ASBSD Executive Director Wade Pogany, Burk Superintendent Erik Person and SDEA President Mary McCorkle, the Oct. 29 meeting would be the last for the Task Force.
After a number of listening sessions with the education community and public, as well as five full group meetings, the Task Force will pass along its final recommendations for improving teacher pay and education funding in South Dakota to Gov. Dennis Daugaard next week, Sen. Soholt said.
What the final recommendation looks like remains to be seen, but at the group’s Oct. 1 meeting the possibility of new funding formula was explored.
The proposed model would utilize a 14-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio funding districts on a per-teacher basis, which would essentially divide the total enrollment of a district by 14 to reach the projected number of teachers. In addition to the ratio calculation, the model included a target average teacher salary – possibly $48,000 – and benefits set by the state and non-teacher costs.
An increase in funding comes at a time when its needed most as recent studies and data have revealed a drastic decrease in the number of teachers in South Dakota.
The S.D. Department of Education found there were 69 teaching positions open to start the 2015-16 school year with the next highest total being 40 in 2008. This information comes a year after a SASD survey revealed one in five schools started the 2014-15 school year without a teacher in a classroom.
“We need teachers. We need teachers to come into the system,” Pogany said on South Dakota Focus. “It’s a wonderful profession. We need more (teachers).”
Studies and surveys completed over the past two years clearly show the need for more teachers is apparent with an estimated margin of only 400 teachers available to cover the expected open teaching positions in the next five years.
Data from South Dakota Retirement System and eight South Dakota colleges and universities released last fall found the number of potential teacher retirees (1,004 SDRS eligible) surpassed the number of potential new teachers by 278 in 2015 and approximately 427 in 2016.
Compounding the problem of the number of retirees exceeding new teaching candidates is the lack of applicants for open positions. A SASD study completed this spring revealed school districts received nearly 800 fewer applicants in 2015 than they did in 2014.
“My fear is down the road if your pool shrinks…that quality (education in S.D.) will erode,” Pogany said.
The shrinking teacher pool makes the need for a solution imperative to assure a quality education for South Dakota students.
“We want to make sure every child in South Dakota has access to (the best) education,” Sen. Soholt said.