SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — As of July 31, there were 256 teacher openings posted with the Associated School Boards of South Dakota (ASBSD).

Many of those are in the Rapid City Area School District. Last week, the district said in a news release it was in a hiring emergency but was committed to being prepared for the start of the school year.

Based on data from the district, there were 18 elementary teaching openings as of Aug. 1. That’s less than the 26 openings as of last week.

The district also needs 15 special education teachers.

Special education and elementary teaching positions make up most of the existing openings in the state, Dr. Doug Wermedal, executive director for ASBSD, said.

The ASBSD has 43 openings listed for special education/early childhood and 49 openings listed for elementary teachers as of July 31.

“For the last several years, the openings tend to be the heaviest in elementary teachers, special ed and coaching,” Wermedal said. Coaching can be a dual position that includes a teaching position, he said.

The Yankton School District has two openings for elementary teachers, according to an Aug. 1 posting for employment on its website.

The 256 openings as of July 21 is down from the 410 openings listed with the ASBSD as of the end of June.

“That’s a nice solid movement of summer hiring there. That’s down…basically 34%,” Wermedal said.

Summer vacations and other obligations can somewhat slow the process but the July 31 number shows that school administration and school boards were able to select and approve candidates in July, he said.

Openings have been in districts across the state. Wermedal said teacher openings include teachers who have left one district for another.

School will start later this month in many districts in the state.

The Rapid City district is approaching the start of the school year with more openings than in prior years. In addition to needing elementary and special education teachers, the district needs seven total middle school and high school teachers as of Aug. 1.

The Sioux Falls District has 13 teacher openings as of Aug. 1.

It’s possible that some of those 256 openings in the state will still exist when school starts.

Wermedal said August opening numbers have shown a decline from July in prior years.

“I’m seeing numbers that fall all the way into the 40s. So that’d be taking out another 100,” Wermedal said.

But that doesn’t mean the decline in August was because the positions were filled in the traditional method.

The ASBSD does not track positions filled if a district decides not to fill one of an original five open positions and instead collapses that opening into one or two positions, for example, Wermedal said.

Districts have found ways to fill open positions in non-traditional ways, including in the elementary level.

“I’ve seen school districts respond to that (remaining openings) with volunteers in the classroom that come from the parent organizations,” Wermedal said. “I’ve seen school districts respond to that relative to hiring extra aides as a class section size bumps up.”

“It is a 100%? No. It’s not an ideal staffing pattern,” Wermedal said. “What you like to do ideally is have a payroll that allowed you to do all of those needs.”

But that is not a reality for all school districts, just as it’s not a reality for all businesses in the state, he said.

Finding paraprofessionals can be difficult for some school districts.

As of Aug. 1, Rapid City has 42 paraprofessional or para-educator openings. That’s two more than last week.

The Aberdeen School District has six education assistant openings as of Aug. 1.

The Sioux Falls School District has 37 openings for support professionals and 31 of those are education assistant positions.

Teacher openings are also part of the consideration when a district evaluates course offerings and the academic needs of students, Wermedal said. The district may decide to cut an advanced calculus class in favor of a different math course, he said. That can be because the students have a greater need for the other math course and because of an open teaching position.

School districts may make those decisions before the school year starts or during semester breaks.

The sharing of teachers, including through televised class instruction, is also an option for districts.

Televised instruction “will also be part of the service offered…,” Wermedal said. But, it’s an option that works best in specific circumstances, he said.

It can be used temporarily for a subject or class. It also fits better long term for a specific class. It should not be used as a permanent replacement for widespread in-person teaching, Wermedal said. It can be an excellent tool when appropriate, he said.

But research and the pandemic experience show that in-person learning is the better option.

“There is just no doubt in-person model is superior,” Wermedal said.