School districts across the state are scrambling to find enough teachers, administrators and coaches

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — With only a couple of weeks before the start of another school year, a lot of districts in South Dakota are scrambling to fill open positions.

From teachers to administrators to coaches the need this year seems to be greater than ever and a lot of it could be due to low wages and the ongoing pandemic.

A lot of teachers say they don’t get into the profession for the money, certainly not in South Dakota anyway.

Once again, it ranks 50th in the country for average teacher pay.

It’s one of the main reasons Amelia Atkins of Baltic moved to Louisiana to start her new career as an elementary physical education teacher.

“Once I started getting closer and closer to graduation, I started to look into teaching jobs and I was realizing South Dakota didn’t have much to offer me,” Atkins said.

She moved in May of 2019 and has no regrets.

“None at all, it’s been amazing, my school itself has been great my bosses are great my co-workers are great the temperatures are a little hot right now, but the winters are amazing,” Atkins said.

Neither does Matt Hendrickson.

“They do have a big demand for teachers,” Hendrickson said.

He used to teach in Doland, but moved to Texas in 2017 and is about to start his 5th year as a history teacher there.

Don: I know you didn’t really leave South Dakota because of teacher pay?

Matt: No I didn’t really leave because of teacher pay, but I know a lot who have left because of teacher pay.

“If you think about it, you have Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota and they all offer higher teacher salaries,” Hendrickson said.

The state of South Dakota doesn’t have a good handle right now on how many teachers have moved out of state, but they do track school districts and their openings and there are a lot of them this year.

“Right now we have about 175 teacher postings, that doesn’t include coaching or some of those ancillary things around that, those are just teacher postings,” Executive Director of Associated School Boards of South Dakota Wade Pogany said.

Pogany says that’s about 55 more than this time last year and the shortages appear to be widespread.

“It’s not one pocket or another, it’s pretty much across the whole state,” Pogany said.

Pogany says the reason there are more openings this year varies, but a lot of them have to do with the pandemic, early retirements and of course low pay.

A few years ago, the state-organized a Blue Ribbon Task Force to study teacher salaries and to find a way to increase them and lawmakers did.

But that was a few years ago and times have changed.

“We know all boats float, so all states have raised their teacher salaries to try to be competitive, we’re trying to be competitive finding good teachers, finding teachers that got into the profession, but we are still at 50th in the nation right now,” Pogany said.

Average salary for teachers in South Dakota is just below $50,000 a year, again that’s the average. The starting pay is much lower and a key factor why some choose to move out of state.

“My starting salary here was significantly more than I would have been making five, six years down the road in South Dakota,” Atkins said.

“In Texas, if you go down to Houston with no experience, they start you at $50,000 a year and that’s without an income tax,” Hendrickson said.

“If you can make it work whatever is going to be best for you, you know, it didn’t seem like it was going to work for me,” Atkins said.

According to data from the South Dakota Board of Regents, only 47 percent of all university graduates found a job in a South Dakota school district, that’s the lowest number since 2013 and down from 48 percent in 2019.

Dakota State University had the highest rate at nearly 66 percent and South Dakota State University had the lowest at 38 percent.

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