A growing number of open positions, plus not enough teachers, equals a tough problem to solve for South Dakota educators. At a conference in Pierre this week, state Superintendents testified in front of a legislative planning committee to talk about an apparent teacher shortage.
The Superintendent of the Alcester-Hudson School District said the hiring process is only getting harder. Up until recently, he had 12 open positions. Years ago, he said each one would have brought 40 applicants.
"Now, depending on the position, we may get one, two. Maybe sometimes zero," Rhead said.
Rhead was at the conference, and the South Dakota Education Association quoted him on its Twitter page. The tweet reads: "It's (teacher shortage) not a looming crisis. The crisis is here."
"Usually, in the past, when you come up to a superintendent -- 'Hey, how are you doing? Everything's fine.' Now when you come up -- 'How are you doing? Do you have all your staff hired?' Number one questions every superintendent asks you," Rhead said.
Rhead believes it all comes down to money. Though teachers in his district may start at $31,000, South Dakota's average starting salary is $29,851. That is a more than $6,000 drop from the national average of $36,141. These statistics come from the Collective Bargaining/Member Advocacy's Teacher Salary Database, which is posted on the National Education Association's website. The numbers are from the 2012-2013 school year. According to this list, Minnesota and Iowa both pay teachers more.
"There are a lot of people (teachers) who commute to Iowa. I don't know what the answer is, besides increasing pay," Hannah Swanson, special education teacher, said.
Competition with other states is not the only issue. A number of longtime teachers in the Alcester-Hudson School District are retiring.
"I was kind of one of the people out there thinking, 'Oh, I'm not really sure this a crisis, like they're making it. After going through the hiring process this year, I truly believe it is," Rhead said.
U.S. News and World Report recently ranked Alcester-Hudson among America's Best High Schools. Even though Swanson has the potential to earn more money if she leaves South Dakota, she said she does not plan on going anywhere.
"It's part of being the team and you get attached to your students and your co-workers and just part of the community," Rhead said.