SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — For more than six months, Jeremy Hurd has been waiting on any applications for a music teacher in the Tripp-Delmont School District. 

After posting the job opening in February, Hurd has received zero applications.  

“We started advertising early in the hopes of trying to find somebody,” Hurd, the superintendent, high school principal and special education director, told KELOLAND News after the second day of school last week.  

Along with the music teacher position, which would include teaching pre-K up to 12th grade, the Tripp-Delmont School District has openings for a school counselor and 7-12 special education teacher. 

“Over the course of the summer, I did not receive a single application for any of those positions,” Hurd said. “It was just disheartening.”  

Tripp-Delmont started on a plan to cover those open positions in July. The school will continue to share a music teacher with a neighboring school district. 

“A lot of schools have leaned on doing that,” Hurd said. “We only get this person for one period a day. So we have to end up contracting with them for a certain amount of time.”

For the open school counselor job, the school district hired a social worker who doesn’t meet the state’s certification but will serve as a “student advocate.”   

The open special education position will be combined for K-12 special education and an additional paraprofessional and parents were hired to meet requirements. Stretching resources has helped meet the needs this year, but Hurd worries if he loses one classroom teacher who would fill the gap. 

“We’ve had to make a lot of creative adjustments,” Hurd said. “It definitely makes me concerned for this upcoming school year.” 

Hurd’s story was all too familiar for Dr. Joe Hauge, who serves as the executive director for the Black Hills Special Services Cooperative. 

“In my 35 years in education, I have never seen the job market as tight as it is right now,” Hauge said. “Across the board now, it’s all positions in education, the number of applicants just aren’t there.” 

Hauge helps work with 12 public school districts in western South Dakota near the Black Hills and said no matter the size of the school district there are openings. He said the Rapid City Area School District has dozens and dozens of open positions, including at least 10 teacher openings on the district’s website. 

“It’s obviously a complex problem,” Hauge said. “In my view, it kind of boils down to two things – money and respect.”  

Hauge said along with money, the cost of housing is a problem. He said housing is impacting all workforce shortages but it also impacts education in a big way. 

“The demand is just so high and the market is so tight that young teachers are needing to pay just a large portion of their check to rent,” Hauge said. “Young teachers are really struggling financially to make that work.” 

Hurd, who lives in Mitchell and commutes to Tripp for work, said the Tripp Area Community Foundation is focused on building new homes in the community. He also said the community is exploring affordable housing options through state programs. 

“You have to have some active people willing to start making some movements in a small community to try to help it grow,” Hurd said. “I really applaud our community trying to do that.” 

Hauge said increased teacher pay would always be helpful and even mentioned school districts possibly looking at providing housing options. 

“Obviously, schools don’t want to get into the housing business,” Hauge said. “But if that’s what it takes to have teachers, it might be something we have to look at.”

From opt-out vote to steady enrollment

It’s not just schools struggling to find workers. 

Many other industries are facing workforce shortages just like those in education. In nearby Armour, the Avantara nursing home announced it would close and cited staffing shortages along with costs and underfunded Medicaid. There’s been five nursing homes that have announced closings this year. 

“Those kinds of things can really shake up a community, it can shake up a school really quick and impact your enrollment,” Hurd said. “I’ve worked in several small school districts and I can tell you that every small town I’ve been to has a tremendous amount of pride. They want to see their town grow and succeed and thrive.”

The loss of a few students looms large in a school district like Tripp-Delmont, which in 2017 held an opt-out vote to save the school district. Five years ago, the K-12 enrollment for Tripp-Delmont was at about 120 and there’s been a 14% increase over the past two years. Hurd said the K-12 enrollment is about 160 and at 180 if you include preschool and kids ages three and four. 

“We’re financially in a good spot and enrollment-wise, we’re in a good spot,” Hurd said. “But now we’re in a situation where we’re trying to battle just keeping the staff that we have and then filling these gaps. To go into this summer and not have a single applicant was just eye-opening.” 

Hurd said many families have seen the benefits small towns offer, especially for raising kids. As the crunch for teachers becomes more and more widespread, Hurd said people are going to need to work together to come up with solutions. 

“We need to increase the workforce somehow,” Hurd said. “If we don’t do something to address this issue, it’s going to be a crisis for quite some time in our state.” 

Until then, Hurd said he plans to leave his job openings posted throughout the school year in hopes of receiving at least one application.