PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Hundreds of South Dakota’s K-12 teachers head back to the classroom this month without knowing whether their certificates have been renewed.

That’s because the South Dakota Department of Education is months behind in processing the applications.

The department is using new software and hasn’t been able to keep up since the different system went online March 3.

State Education Secretary Joseph Graves and the department’s director of certification Kathryn Blaha (BLA-ha) briefed the Legislature’s Executive Board about the situation Monday.

Teaching certificates expire October 1.

“So we are working very hard to get that taken care of,” Blaha said.

Teachers and school districts are concerned, because money and professional reputations are at stake.

“The rule is, you cannot be paid unless you have the certificate,” Graves said.

He offered assurance.

“As long as (their applications) were in by June 30, and there’s nothing malicious or dishonest about them, they’re covered,” Graves said.

The department will continue processing applications after October 1 if needed and plans to review the situation again after the backlog has been handled.

“Will it work much better next year? Yes,” Graves said.

Blaha said they’ve fielded a lot of questions by phone and email. She said teachers weren’t familiar with the system.

Democratic Sen. Reynold Nesiba asked what the Legislature could do. “I’m on your side. We all work for state government,” Nesiba said.

“Some of the glitches are just about inexplicable,” Graves replied. “Once those glitches are all taken care of, I think we’re going to be where we need to be.”

“At this point I don’t have have any specific requests,” Graves said.

Pat Snow, chief technology officer in the state Bureau of Information and Telecommunications, said the agency has worked with the software vendor as issues have come up. Users had to create new log-on credentials to access the system, he said.

Authentication and user IDs have accounted for about one-third of the calls BIT has received in the past seven or eight years throughout state government, according to Snow.

Blaha said the department had some 1,600 applications pending.

“That’s a lot,” Republican Sen. Jim Bolin, a retired teacher, said.

Blaha said 74% of the applications had been processed as of Monday. Among the steps that have been taken to get through the backlog are offering voluntary overtime to the eight certification officers and temporarily shifting some people from another division.

Nesiba said he’s heard from a teacher who applied in March and was still waiting. “What should I tell her? I would imagine she’s not alone,” he said.

“I would ask for their patience,” Blaha said. She said the new system hasn’t been recognizing all the nuances in transcripts.

Republican Sen. Lee Schoenbeck spoke from the perspective of the spouse of a former educator. ”The sooner you get this fixed, the happier we’ll all be,” he said. 

Later in the meeting, lawmakers agreed that the Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee should follow up on the department’s progress at GOAC’s October 19 meeting. Republican Sen. Dean Wink, who chairs GOAC, said he would report back to the Executive Board.