PIERRE, South Dakota — More than 20 percent of South Dakota public schools had at least one unfilled teaching position on the first day of school, according to a statewide survey of superintendents released Wednesday.
Thirty-one district superintendents said in the School Administrators of South Dakota survey said that they had an open position, though that number could be even higher, as about 9 percent of the state's 151 districts did not respond. One district reported having eight openings, while another said it had more than 20.
Education advocates and school officials have been petitioning legislators to address the teacher shortage, citing low pay, relocations and retirements as contributing factors. Last week, a group of education officials suggested creating a 1-cent summer sales tax to go toward increasing teacher salaries.
South Dakota ranks last in the nation for teacher pay with an average of $39,018 compared with a national average of $56,103, according to the National Education Association.
About half of the survey respondents said they had four or fewer candidates for open teaching positions in their districts. Fifty-four respondents said applicants turned down a job offer because of a low salary.
At the Estelline district, Superintendent Pat Kraning said they've seen a dramatic decrease in applicants
"For our fifth-grade position to have 11 or 12 applicants, that's unheard of," he said. "Fifteen years ago that we would've had 60, 70, 80 applicants."
The lack of applicants has led some districts, such as Alcester-Hudson, to take alternative steps to fill positions.
Tim Rhead, the district superintendent, said he didn't receive any applicants for their lone Family and Consumer Science position. So Rhead turned to South Dakota State University, who connected him with five soon-to-be education graduates.
Two applied, but one withdrew before the interview process. Rhead said they hired the remaining student, but she won't start until after she graduates in December.
For this semester, Rhead said the district won't offer a FACS class.
"This is the first time that's ever happened," said Rhead, who calculated the starting pay for his district is about $1,800 per month excluding benefits.
The district also filled an agriculture teaching position with someone who didn't have a license but has petitioned the state to earn one while he teaches.
Fifty-two superintendents in all said they filled a position with someone who was not fully certified to teach, meaning they could be a long-term substitute, licensed in a different subject, or unlicensed but seeking one, like the agriculture teacher.
Most school districts in South Dakota began classes about two weeks before the survey was administered on Sept. 5. By the time it was administered, 22 districts said they still had at least one open teaching position.
Kraning in Estelline said the lack of qualified teachers and applicants is going to persist as more teachers retire and fewer choose to enter the workforce in the state."
"What we're seeing South Dakota right now is a perfect storm scenario," he said. "We're not attracting enough new teachers and we're losing veterans in key areas."
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