The Blue Ribbon Task Force on Teachers and Students is meeting in Pierre right now. You can listen online as the panel tries to produce solid recommendations for improving K-12 funding in its final meeting.
Steve O’Brien, one of only two teachers sitting on the 26-member panel, remains hopeful that the panel will act to raise teacher pay:
“We know it’s not the only issue. It’s not the only reason people go into education. It’s not the only reason people leave education but it is the elephant in the room,” O’Brien said.
…He says members have also noted that other states with higher salaries are also facing shrinking teacher applicant numbers.
“But it’s unique to South Dakota because as the lowest paying state, we are becoming the pool that other states can easily fish in,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien is pleased with discussion so far and is hopeful they’ll lead to solutions. In his opinion, there have been clear differences with this committee that could lead to more results than committees in the past.
“We started it with the support of the public. We started it by bringing more than just legislators to the panel,” O’Brien said [Erich Schaffhauser, “Teacher Discusses Task Force Ahead of Final Meeting,” KELO-TV, 2015.10.28].
Blue Ribbon co-chair Senator Deb Soholt (R-14/Sioux Falls) puts a price tag on competitive teacher salaries:
Soholt says the panel finds that, on average, South Dakota teachers are $8,000 to $10,000 out of market.
“And certainly it’s more than just pay that brings somebody into education, but we are spending a lot of time looking at that slice of the pie, because we don’t want pay to be the barrier,” Soholt says. “So in order to move us from where we are to be competitive with our neighbors, we’re probably talking about something about infusing somewhere between $50 million to $70 million new dollars into our education system in order to accomplish that move” [Kealey Bultena, “Final Blue Ribbon Education Task Force Meeting Thursday,” SDPB Radio, 2015.10.28].
Given that we have 9,362 K-12 teachers, $50 million to $70 million means $5,340 to $7,480 more per teacher, meaning Senator Soholt is assuming that South Dakota can compete for talented teachers by still hanging back more than $2,000 from the prevailing wages in neighboring states.
In the hearing just now, Senator Soholt said her target would be to increase the statewide average teacher salary from $40,000 to $48,000, placing us at 39th in the nation.
Alas, Senator Soholt seems to be bracing us for something less than a resounding, unified call for action:
Soholt says task force members must set recommendations for Governor Dennis Daugaard on options for increasing teacher pay. The state senator says the group may not come to consensus, so the final report may include multiple ideas from different stakeholders [Bultena, 2015.10.28].
Mitchell Superintendent Joseph Graves, who’s really good at increasing (if not remembering and explaining) his own pay, offers no specific plan for increasing teacher pay, but huffs and puffs that we are at a historic moment of political possibility in which South Dakota might buck its resistance to higher taxes and its fiscal negligence of public education:
Yet, just now, there seems to be at least the possibility that such a supermajority could be mustered to raises taxes in order to improve teacher pay. In my memory, I can remember no other time in which this was the case. We talked about low teacher pay in the past. We lamented it. We despaired over it. We vilified it. But we never really thought there was anything much that could be done about it.
Until now. The window is open.
But it may not be open for long and it may not be as wide open as some people seem to think. Therefore, we need to move deliberately and expeditiously to make the best use of the current political will to raise teacher salaries [Joseph Graves, “Teacher Pay: Fix It Now—Finally,” Mitchell Daily Republic, 2015.10.27].
Given Graves’s sycophancy to the GOP regime, perhaps his well-timed op-ed is really a signal that the Daugaard regime is ready to act. But notice the wedge Graves throws into his argument for bad ideas:
First, we need to work with our legislators and the Daugaard Administration to find those compromises necessary to approve a very significant increase in teacher salaries. This may mean accepting some things we don’t want. So be it. Enhancing teacher compensation in South Dakota is too important to flounder on the rocks of even the most sacred of cows [Graves, 2015.10.27].
Like Rep. Lee Schoenbeck (R-5/Watertown), Superintendent Graves seems to think it necessary to pry the door open for bad ideas instead of focusing strictly on convincing people of the one good idea South Dakota schools really, really need right now: competitive wages for teachers.
Rise up, Steve O’Brien. Sit your fellow panelists down for lunch, tell them that your consensus today on one focused, straightforward plan is crucial to beating back the naysayers, the saboteurs, and the opportunists who would turn a teacher pay raise into a vehicle for who knows how many bad ideas.