State panel highlights effort South Dakota has made in trying to improve teachers’ salaries

Capitol News Bureau

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PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The South Dakota Teacher Compensation Review Board approved its report Wednesday. The message was mixed.

South Dakota raised the average salary for a K-12 school teacher by 22% since 2013-14, second only to Washington state. But South Dakota, at $48,984 last year, still ranked second from the bottom, down in 50th place.

That amount also was still below the South Dakota target of $50,360, according to the report. During the same period, the U.S. average salary for a teacher went up 13%.

The report compares average salaries for K-12 teachers in South Dakota and other states during recent years. It also looks at conditions.

The panel spent several hours wordsmithing the draft version. The Legislature and the governor must receive the final report no later than September 30.

The panel was established by state law in 2016, as part of a general rewrite of South Dakota’s K-12 funding laws. The Legislature increased the state sales and use tax rate that year, to 4.5% from 4%, to provide more money for public schools and to provide tax relief for commercial property owners.

The state board Wednesday added national salary lists at the suggestion of Senator David Wheeler, a former local school board member.

He convinced others on the state panel to expand the scope of the report’s conclusions, so there will be “red flags” in case South Dakota’s effort begins to lag.

Representative Lana Greenfield, a retired English teacher, said she didn’t like the “doom and gloom” tone of the statement saying South Dakota was in 50th place.

She said the report found South Dakota’s average teacher salary ranked 45th nationally when cost of living was calculated.

“The number 50 is not a true, accurate reflection of where we’re at,” Greenfield said.

Replied Representative Jamie Smith, a retired teacher and coach: “We are 50th.” He added, “I agree with the Wheeler proposal to say, ‘Hey, we’re slipping again.'”

Representative Scott Odenbach, a former school board member who chaired the state review, said taxpayers needed to be recognized, too.

“We raised taxes. We put a lot of money into this,” he said.

Senator Troy Heinert said the report shows something needs to significantly change. “I don’t know what we do with this,” he said.

Odenbach responded that the next steps are up to legislators, the governor and the public: “Our job’s just to issue the report.”

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