PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Is South Dakota’s teacher shortage easing?

State Education Secretary Joseph Graves and the state Department of Education’s director of accreditation and certification, Kathryn Blaha, think there are some positive signs.

Graves and Blaha updated the Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee this week about problems discovered in a new software system that have slowed the department’s processing of applications from people seeking certification as teachers.

An administrative rule set by the state Board of Education Standards establishes a five-year renewal cycle, with the certificate expiring on June 30. The rule notes, “The certificate is invalid if renewal requirements are not complete by October 1 of the year of expiration.”

Blaha said the state office finished in early September processing all of the completed applications that had been received by June 30.

She said the department in eight months processed a record 4,654 applications. That’s up from the previous high set a year ago, when the department processed 4,089 in 12 months, using an older software system.

Graves and Blaha said the numbers suggest more people are seeking certification to serve as teachers.

“We’re seeing right now as many as a hundred applications each week,” he said. “That’s a great thing.”

Graves said the typical reason that applications haven’t been processed is they weren’t complete. There are 557 still pending action, Blaha said, including 176 that were submitted before the June 30 deadline.

The department has taken a variety of steps to work through problems found in the new system, such as providing tutorial videos, according to Graves. He said the department might shift a staff member to the role of an ombudsman, who would answer questions from applicants.

The department also has been talking with staff at Dakota State University about the potential use of artificial intelligence to assist the system. “It does appear to have some promise,” Graves said.

He said some of the department’s staff will meet Monday with some school district officials about ideas for speeding up the process for certifying teachers who come to South Dakota from foreign nations.

“It sounds like you addressed a lot of the concerns we had earlier,” said GOAC’s chair, Republican Sen. Dean Wink.

The department initially presented information about the software challenges to the Legislature’s Executive Board in August.

LAND SWAP: The state Game, Fish and Parks Commission last week gave its blessing to a property trade that will open more acres in part of Day County in northeastern South Dakota.

The commission approved a three-way deal that calls for exchanging 0.21 acres of GFP property at the Lake Byron lakeside use area in Beadle County in return for 61 acres of private property — 45 water, 15 land — that connect to 11.5 acres of GFP water access near Grenville.

James Lake of Sioux Falls is buying the 61 acres in Day County for $25,000 from the current owner, James Kurkowski, and trading it to GFP for the Lake Byron property, which is appraised at $11,000. A private storage shed encroaches on the Lake Byron land. Kurkowski would like GFP to honor his family by naming the Day County property for them.

AFTER DARK: The state Brand Board has given the go-ahead for Mobridge Livestock Market to do nighttime ownership inspections.

Previously, Fort Pierre Livestock Auction was the only market allowed to do them.

State law says they must be conducted between sunrise and sunset unless there is adequate lighting and the board grants an exception.

PAYMENT DUE: Transportation Secretary Joel Jundt told the state Transportation Commission on Thursday that an overload vehicle traveling east on I-90 struck the I-190 bridge at Rapid City on November 1. He said there was damage but traffic wasn’t disrupted.

State officials know the company and plan to hold it responsible. “They will be paying for this repair when it’s all said and done,” Jundt said.

Have a news item or story tip about South Dakota state government and politics? You can reach KELOLAND News reporter Bob Mercer in the Pierre bureau at bmercer@keloland.com or by calling 605-280-7580 or through a direct message on X (formerly Twitter) to @pierremercer.