A column by Gov. Dennis Daugaard
During the 2016 session, the State Legislature passed a package of three bills, based on the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Task Force. The purpose of these bills was to direct new funding to school districts to increase teacher salaries.
I’m pleased to report that this effort has been a success.
A new survey by the state Department of Education indicates that the average teacher salary is $46,924. This represents a one-year increase of 11.9 percent.
The Blue Ribbon Task Force was convened to address the serious problem our schools faced when trying to recruit and retain excellent teachers. South Dakota had paid the lowest average teacher salary for decades, but in recent years the gap with our surrounding states had widened. For many teachers, neither the desire to stay close to home, nor South Dakota’s low cost of living, could any longer outweigh the significantly higher salaries offered in neighboring states.
The task force’s recommendations addressed the problem head-on, and I again thank the task force members for their work. I also thank the legislators who had the courage to vote for bills that raised the sales tax, that rewrote the school funding formula, and that committed funds to innovation and sharing of services.
The Legislature set a “target average salary” of $48,500 for teachers. We knew that we would not reach that average in the first year, because it will take time for schools to become more efficient and repurpose their own funds into salaries. I am very pleased that, with an average salary of nearly $47,000, our schools have made so much progress toward that goal.
Our smaller, rural school districts are especially challenged to attract teachers, and so I am particularly pleased to see very sizable salary increases in many small districts. In Jones County, the average teacher salary increased by 22.4 percent. In Ethan, it increased by 19.7 percent. In Mobridge-Pollock, salaries increased 25 percent. Faith increased 18.3 percent. Iroquois increased 23.3 percent. Florence increased 19.6 percent. Burke increased 18.8 percent. Oelrichs salaries improved by 20.5 percent. Gayville-Volin went up 21.4 percent. And the highest increase in the state, as a percentage, was Waubay with 26.3 percent.
Larger schools also enjoyed sizable raises, although they had higher salaries to begin with and therefore their percentage increases are generally lower. Most were close to the state average of 11.9 percent, although Brandon Valley achieved an increase of 19.3 percent and Meade County went up 14.7 percent.
I have already heard from many superintendents that these raises are having an impact. Fewer teachers are departing, fewer vacancies are unfilled, more are applying for open positions and more teachers are staying in South Dakota rather than leaving the state. I am confident that, over the next year or two, the data we collect from school districts will show a persistence in the impact that we are seeing in the first year of these salary increases.
Every South Dakotan wants to give our children a quality education, and we know that the most important means to that end is not buildings or equipment – it is great teachers. When the Legislature approved the Blue Ribbon package this year, it sent a clear message that South Dakotans were willing to invest in our teachers. I thank our school leaders for joining in that investment by using these funds to dramatically increase teacher salaries.