Potholes, Math-Holes: Raise Teacher Pay to Raise Respect?

A school administrator at one of the Blue Ribbon K-12 funding meetings in Aberdeen Tuesday said that South Dakotans won’t support major funding increases around the idea that teachers deserve higher pay. The administrator said that many South Dakotans think, contrary to all evidence, that teachers make too much and that dropping another $10,000 or $20,000 in their laps would rouse great resentment, especially in smaller towns. The only way we’ll get widespread political support for any policy to meaningfully raise teacher pay, said this administrator, is to show people that current teacher pay leads to their kids going without essentials, like math teachers.

Paging Baltic School District:

Bob Sittig was in a scary place when his high school math teacher resigned and no one applied for the job.

High school math is a one-man department in the Baltic School District.

And, as Superintendent Sittig so correctly points out: “You got to have a high school math teacher” [Patrick Anderson, “Teacher Openings Skyrocket, Interest Wanes,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2015.06.25].

Anderson reports that Sittig lucked out: the math teacher who resigned decided to come back. But lucking out is not a sustainable hiring policy for our schools. If we want our kids to learn math, we’ve got to pay for it. If we want more applicants to choose from, we have to end South Dakota’s reputation for shortchanging teachers.

The administrator I talked with Tuesday mentioned something many other participants in the Blue Ribbon sessions around the state mentioned, that the K-12 funding task force should look for ways to increase respect for teachers. Rather than fiddling around with ideas for outreach (what, another ad campaign from Lawrence & SchillerSouth Dakota Teachers—Nicer Than Martians!), the task force and the Legislature should take action that directly solves the problem of low teacher pay draining the applicant pool. If the Legislature waits for cultural perceptions of teachers to shift, the Legislature will never act.

The Legislature didn’t wait for the culture to shift this year when it raised taxes $85 million to fix our roads.  Of course, as my administrator interlocutor noted, people can see and feel potholes. Maybe that problem already had sufficient public buy-in for legislators to feel they had electoral cover to act. (Also helping: not an election year! The Blue Ribbon panel’s recommendations will come up in an election year.)

So on K-12 funding, must the Legislature wait for enough South Dakotans to feel the potholes—the math-holes, the music-holes (Anderson reports that an applicant turned down the Alcester-Hudson music position because she could make more teaching music half-time across the border in Iowa), the opportunity-holes caused by our state’s cheapness? Or does the Legislature choose lead, raise teacher pay to competitive interstate levels, and spend the 2016 election season defending that policy and leading a conversation about why teachers deserve such a raise and such respect?

16 Responses to Potholes, Math-Holes: Raise Teacher Pay to Raise Respect?

  1. Roger Elgersma

    So how did Sittig get lucky. I remember when the basketball coach at SDSU was going to leave and they got lucky to get him back by giving him a big raise.
    Administrators in this state get paid much closer to national average than the teachers do. So how can they say that we should not pay teachers better. All hard working South Dakotans know the one doing the work is the one getting it done.
    In Sioux Falls we got a new superintendent. We paid someone more than the experienced person who was retiring and he came from a much smaller school district. But he was a man replacing a woman. Most teachers are women. Are we just keeping women in their place by not paying them well? Smells that way.

  2. barry freed

    Not enough information.
    Was this a case of a 55 year old teacher taking early retirement, then coming back for full pay plus a retirement check? That doesn’t help the perception of “teachers making too much” by the taxpayers who can’t retire until age 65.
    Baltic is close to Sioux Falls and there are plenty of people in a City of that size who can teach HS math.
    It’s not too late, is Mr. Sittig still looking? If that teacher truly wanted to retire, they still do.

  3. Travis Wicks

    Does that administrator consider the possibility that people in small towns would resent principals/superintendents exponentially more if that argument was valid?

    I have a hard time giving this reasoning much weight. I teach in one of the smallest districts in the state, in terms of enrollment, and I have never heard that complaint made by the locals. I only see complaints made like that online, and as we all know, discretion and civility fly out the window more often than not when one is able to voice their ideas and opinions without having to look anyone in the eye.

  4. Travis Wicks

    Barry, I don’t know any teachers who have done that, just administrators.

  5. Travis Wicks

    Roger, I hope the salary of the new SF supe was not a gender bias factor. I know my pay is not better than any of the female teachers in my district. My salary is based on what the starting pay was when I started, my graduate credits earned, and years of experience in the district.

  6. Roger Elgersma

    I heard the statistics on Administrator pay compared to teacher pay in South Dakota from a retired Minnesota teacher. I think that a lot of teachers and administrators who make more than average are not telling their friends and neighbors what they are getting. Because of the feedback they would get.
    Travis, no matter how bad the world is, there are always some good people doing it right. And no matter how good it is, there will be someone trying to cheat. So if they are doing it right in your district is wonderful, and if your district pays a few exceptional teachers more by not letting you know may be happening as well.

  7. Roger Elgersma

    A math teacher is an unusual concept. Most people are either a people person or a numbers person. A math teacher has to be both. So naturally there will be a problem finding enough math teachers. This could also affect supply of science teachers.
    When I lived in Minnesota twenty five years ago I knew a very good math teacher who had won teacher of the year award. He was very concerned that there was only one student graduating from Minnesota Universities that year what was going to be a math teacher. So this shortage of math teachers is not a new problem. This makes it easy to show a shortage of math teachers. So I look closer at the total of unfilled teacher positions across the state to see if there is a problem than to just look at an obvious shortage.

  8. I couldn’t agree more with Mr. Elgersma about exceptional teachers getting more pay than other teachers and those salaries should be kept secret.

  9. Douglas Wiken

    Every time I see the local Supt’s ridiculously large salary for doing next to nothing to improve actual education instead of padding extra-curricular sports, I am pissed off. School administrator salaries have increased because Boards of Education give percentage wage increases rather than a fixed amount per employee without regard to current salary. The higher waged administrators get a disproportionate share of any increases. It is stupid. That is also true of state government. That too is stupid. Peons on the bottom are still near the bottom, but the political appointees at the top are well rewarded and the reward is increased by thousands every year.

  10. What makes an exceptional teacher, Grudz? Is it based on test scores to you?
    Totally agree on Supt salaries, Grudz.

  11. Mr. Grudznick, please share with us your magical formula for determining which teachers are indeed “good” teachers. I have worked with teachers who by all normal measures and observations would probably not be considered “good,” but I have witnessed those very same teachers reach those unreachable students and make a difference for them when no one else could. I also know teachers who look very good on paper, but do not really connect with any students in a meaningful way. So how do you achieve what most cannot—definitively identifying the “good teachers?”

  12. Ms. Jenny and Mr/s Hart, I am still working on my own magical formula but clearly there is a way to determine which teachers are “good” and which are the best. I believe that the best teachers are very able to determine a way to sort themselves out. I have often seen our good friend Mr. H refer to people as a “good teacher.” In fact, recently he said that Mr. Steve O’Brien who is on the Blue Ribbon Task-Force (BluRT-F) is a very, very good teacher. And Mr. H himself used to be a teacher and I have no doubt one of the best at that. So if Mr. H can point out very, very good teachers, I know other good teachers can come up with a way to sort themselves out. I hope they do so all teachers can get some more money and the best teachers can get even more.

  13. ” I hope they do so all teachers can get some more money and the best teachers can get even more.”

    Grud I think you’re coming around. Yes lets have better starting wages for all teachers. I’ll even meet you part way. If a fair way can be found to tell the best teachers, then I’m with you.

  14. Perhaps Mr. Owen has knocked it in the head. We need to get school boards to raise the salary for starting teachers and then after the old good teachers today figure out how to sort themselves out we give bigger raises to the best teachers than we give to ordinary teachers.

    And we pay for this by not giving the fatcat administrators raises and we take away their fancy reserved parking and such.

    Owen good job

  15. Teachers ought receive the same pay as the state law enforcement officers. Several years ago the state raised that pay scale in response to high turnover, low morale, etc., and the ruing of the police-prosecutor-prison-legislative industrial complex. Studies show that strong education systems are the best way to reduce crime and prison populations so it stands that we people ought to support a living wage for our teachers.

  16. John, did the Legislature decide that pay raise for law enforcement? Would there be testimony on that raise that we could cite in this discussion of teacher pay?

    Solid education would indeed lower law enforcement costs (pay now, save later). That’s another reason teachers are essential to the survival of every town in this state.