SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Those who work in education thought the number of staff openings were high eight years ago.

“Back in 2016…we reached a peak of 580 total positions (open),” said Wade Pogany, the executive director of the Associated School Boards of South Dakota.

The numbers motivated then Gov. Dennis Daugaard to initiate a plan for a half cent sales tax to increase salaries for teachers.

“Now, we’re still at a really high level (of openings),” Pogany said. “It’s a concern.”

The Associated School Boards of South Dakota has a teacher placement board where it lists openings for teaching positions, administrative positions, coaching positions and some out of state positions.

As of May 9, there were 520 open teaching and administration positions, Pogany said. “That is 51 more than last year,” he said.

Total positions are at 640.

Darrell Stacey, the assistant superintendent in the Watertown School District and his wife Jackie, the band teacher, will retire this year.

He’d encourage individuals to consider teachings. “It’s a really exciting, fun field,” Stacey said. “You have to be in it for the whole child. You have to want to see them learn and grow.”

The openings in Watertown have been consistent in some areas since 2019 but there are fewer applications for those positions.

“We are all vying for the same candidates. We just are,” Stacey said.

“You are not going to get 50 applications, I’d say a handful,” Pogano said of the numbers.

Watertown had 35 openings this year. “The high school and middle school (openings) over the past two years have been busy,” Stacey said.

“When you get into high school and middle school you are talking about openings in science, math and English,” Stacey said. “Those core subject areas but also music, vocal and band.”

Those core subject areas along with music, vocal and band, are generally considered difficult positions to fill because of the available applicants.

But, the district is down to five open positions as of May 9, Stacey said. The openings include 1 high school English position, a speech language pathologist and four special education positions.

The Alcester-Hudson School District also needed a band teacher and music teacher. It also needed an art teacher, said superintendent Tim Rhead said.

The district has filled the music, band and art positions, he said. It should fill the agriculture instructor position soon, Rhead said.

It will still have two special education teaching positions open, Rhead said.

“We’ve been very fortunate,” Rhead said of filling openings. “We didn’t have any openings last year.”

Kim Cleveland, the business manager in Howard School District , said the district had five open positions as of May 9.

One of the five was a retirement, Cleveland said.

The district has filled four positions with new hires or absorbing one position into another, Cleveland said.

Where do teachers come from and go?

“Location, location, location is important,” Stacey said plays a role in some teachers’ choices to leave a district or join a new one.

Watertown’s location and its features make it attractive to potential teachers, Stacey said.

In other cases, a doable commute may attract some teachers to a district.

“We do have a lot of teachers who travel in from outside the community to us,” Cleveland said. The district is about 523 square miles but Madison is roughly 15 to 20 minutes away, she said.

“I think we are very fortunate to (be) in this part of the state, in southeastern South Dakota,” Rhead said.

Two teachers new to the district took jobs in Alcester-Hudson to be closer to family who lived in the area, he said.

A third had relatives living in the district and wanted to move back, Rhead said.

But, the district still lost teachers to larger districts in the region, he said. Teachers went to Vermillion, Dakota Valley and Harrisburg, Rhead said.

Pogany said there is an increase this year it teachers from other states “looking to see what South Dakota has to offer.”

That is encouraging because the number of openings is outpacing the number of teaching graduates from within South Dakota colleges and universities, he said.

Attractive features in a community can help recruit and retain teachers but a good industry and job base can also help.

Stacey said he had just gotten a call about a individual transferring to take a job in Watertown. The individual’s spouse is a teacher, he said.

Money and more

The state Legislature approved a 6% increase in teacher salaries during this session.

It’s too early to tell the impact yet but Pogany said that increase should help retain and attract teachers.

The education organizations and school districts are grateful for the increase, Pogany said.

But, South Dakota will still lag behind neighboring states in pay because many states have also increased wages.

More school districts also looked at their benefit packages this year, Pogany said.

Benefits are also important to potential hires, he said.

The Watertown School District still offers a retirement benefit from within the district, Stacey said.

The district also offers a mentoring program where a younger or inexperienced teacher is mentored by an experienced teacher, Stacey said.

“You have someone walking alongside you to build you up…,” Stacey said.

Mentoring and professional development are also important for teachers, Stacey said.

Pogany and Stacey said community support is also important in education.

“We need to respect them and the hard work they do,” Pogany said.