PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The panel that looks at teacher salaries in South Dakota wants the Legislature to adjust the penalty for school districts that don’t pay enough.

That was the main recommendation Friday when the state Teacher Compensation Review Board unanimously adopted a modified version of its draft report.

The current penalty for school districts that don’t meet the statewide target is subtraction of $500 in state aid for every teacher that the district employs. School districts can request a waiver.

The estimated statewide average for the 2022-23 school year was $51,363. That was about $4,400 below the $55,761 target.

However, the penalty has never been triggered, according to board members.

The board on Friday unanimously added to the draft a recommendation that the governor and legislators “carefully monitor” inflation regarding teacher salaries. State law currently requires state aid increase by inflation, up to a maximum of 3%.

The board must deliver the final version of the report by September 30 to the Legislature and Governor Kristi Noem.

“Accountability is important,” said Republican Senator Jim Bolin, a retired teacher who chairs the panel. He said he didn’t dispute that increased compensation is necessary to attract younger people into teaching who have skills and abilities to be effective in the classroom.

Bolin drew attention to a statement in the report that dated back to the 2015 Blue Ribbon Task Force that then-Governor Dennis Daugaard had appointed: “The task force was concerned that its work not be a one-time event, but that state policymakers continue to periodically consider the state’s teacher salaries, as compared to other states in the region.”

State Education Secretary Joe Graves wrote the current draft. He was superintendent of the Mitchell school district when state lawmakers established the board in 2016 as part of a push by the Daugaard administration and many legislators to raise teacher salaries.

“This is not a one-off. This is something we’re trying to focus on over a number of years,” Graves said.

The board meets every other year. Friday marked the board’s third and final meeting of 2023.

Graves said there’s no teeth in the current penalty, which he said has never been used. He said the state Department of Education is considering ways to strengthen it. “We don’t have anything complete on it at this point. We’re still working on it,” he said.

South Dakota teachers were lowest-paid in the nation in 2015, according to the National Education Association. South Dakota rose to 47th place in 2017 but dropped back to 48th in 2018, 50th in 2019, 49th in 2020 and 49th in 2021.

“If every other state is having this problem, they’re going to raise wages too,” Republican Senator David Wheeler said. “I think we’re kind of treading water.”

The report also compares South Dakota’s salaries to those of other states in the region and factors in each state’s relative cost of living. The draft report concluded that the salary difference is smaller when comparing price parity, but South Dakota still lagged all surrounding states.

“If we’re trying to catch up, we have to do more than the cost of inflation,” Democratic Senator Reynold Nesiba said. “Our goal should be to at least be in the middle of the pack for our region.”