Northeast SD Schools May Have to Double Pay to Hire and Keep Music Teachers

Why go to Mars when you can teach music in Groton?

School superintendents Joe Schwan of Groton and Michael Kroll of Warner take to the Aberdeen paper this morning to offer the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on Teachers and Students the obvious explanation for South Dakota’s teacher shortage: low pay.

Groton, Warner, Ipswich, and Faulkton have five music teaching positions open right now. Schwan says the Legislature’s funding is far from sufficient to compete with the private sector:

Groton Supt. Joe Schwan
Groton Supt. Joe Schwan

Public school districts are bound by funding received from the Legislature for teacher salaries and benefits, Schwan said.

There have been four individuals that have left teaching for private-sector jobs in recent years, Schwan said.

“I think we’re doing about as best we can,” Schwan said of the tools the Legislature give schools. “We’re not even close to the offers that these people are getting from private-sector places. We’d have to look at close to doubling what our salaries are, and that’s just not fiscally possible with the current system that we’re operating under” [Katherine Grandstrand, “Aberdeen-Area Schools Seeking Music Teachers,” Aberdeen American News, 2015.04.20].

Superintendent Schwan is a realist. He doesn’t say he could recruit music teachers by telling them Groton is a nicer place to live than Mars. He says drawing good teachers may require doubling our teacher pay.

Superintendent Kroll says we can’t compete with other states for teachers:

Warner Supt. Michael Kroll (KELO, 2014.12.22)
Warner Supt. Michael Kroll (KELO, 2014.12.22)

A recent report release jointly by the School Administrators of South Dakota and the Associated School Boards of South Dakota found that one-third of all new education graduates are leaving the state, which has administrators even more worried, Kroll said.

“From a salary standpoint and a benefits standpoint, we’re so far behind other states,” Kroll said. North Dakota and Minnesota are only a few hours’ drive away from northeast South Dakota [Grandstrand, 2015.04.20].

Refusing to lift our teacher pay from the bottom of the barrel, South Dakota officials have instead focused on secondary solutions like scholarships and loan forgiveness that are conditioned on teaching in South Dakota for a few years. Schwan says those programs are turning out to be short-term band-aids that don’t build a sustainable professional workforce:

New teachers do take advantage of student loan forgiveness programs that the state offers, Schwan said.

“I think what you’re finding — and we haven’t seen it here so much — but I think what you’ll find in schools where you have a lot of teachers taking advantage of that, that once their student loans are paid off, and they’ve completed their time commitment to get their loans paid off, that’s when we begin to lose them,” Schwan said [Grandstrand, 2015.04.20].

None of these statements from educational leaders in the field are surprising. The South Dakota Blogosphere saying these facts about South Dakota’s educational job market for years. If state government just read the blogs (and stopped spending money on ad campaigns that avoid reality), it could save a lot of time and money on task forces and get right to solving some problems.

35 Responses to Northeast SD Schools May Have to Double Pay to Hire and Keep Music Teachers

  1. Lee Schoenbeck

    Cory –
    I’m an advocate of the legislature acting on this issue, and I believe we will this next session, but there is an interesting and obvious question you aren’t exploring. Under the current law, EVERY Supt has the ability – with his or her school board, to propose an opt out for the purpose of raising educator salary to a competitive point — yet none have! You should ask: Why not? Do they not see the need (the article seems to belay that concern)? Do they not think they can convince the patrons in their district of the need (the same voters legislators have to convince on a more remote basis)? Are they scared? Are they unconcerned? What other options are there for this dereliction to their duty to aide in the education of the young people in their districts?
    Its worth asking — and don’t take excuses — why do they play their fiddle while education in their district burns?

  2. Nick Nemec

    That’s a fair enough question Lee and I’m sure it will be one of the excuses the state uses to avoid increasing the amount of state aid to local schools.

  3. A list of schools that have opted out since 2004 can be found at
    It would be interesting to take this information and reference it against things such as political affiliation and educational indicators to see if there is a difference in quality based on whether or not the school district opted out.
    Ultimately, the use of an opt out should be seen as more of a last resort option than a way to make ends meet from year-to-year.

  4. tara volesky

    Mitchell School District has a continual opt-out of $700,000 dollars a year. Administrators are 24th in the nation for teacher pay while teachers are 51st. What’s with that? Maybe it’s time to cut from the top down. Instead of spending $20 million dollars on a stand alone fine arts center for MHS, maybe the school boards should talk to their legislators about passing a law to be able to use a percentage of the capital outlay money to pay teachers.

  5. tara volesky

    Steve Sibson, candidate for the Mitchell School Board had a very good letter to the editor in the Saturday MDR.

  6. Lee Schoenbeck

    I didn’t posit the question as a an excuse for the state’s failure to act. Its a serious question. You’d think one district out of the 100+ would say: “We value educators and know what it takes to get good ones, and we’re doing it – the rest of you be dammed.” But, nope…. silence on that front. I’m just puzzled.

    I do think the answer, if you ponder it a bit is probably even worse than their lack of courage. It may be, what they think their constituents think about the topic —which isn’t an excuse not to act, just a comment on how tough the task ahead is.

  7. Hi Lee,
    I can answer this question about using an opt out for teacher pay. All opt-outs are for a set number of years (say 5, 10, 15) then they all have to sunset and be reaffirmed by the voters in that district. The issue is the same as the one-time money the Governor kept giving the schools for the past several years. The question is, what does a school do if they pass an opt-out now for teacher salaries (a permanent expense) and in 10 years when it needs to be reaffirmed it fails? It is “easy” to get an opt-out when their is a crisis (like our embarrassing teacher pay), however it is more difficult when things appear to be going well.

  8. Donald Pay

    Rapid City contemplated briefly the idea of opting out in 2000-2001. At that time the issue wasn’t so much teacher salaries, as Rapid City had fairly robust salaries at that time. Instead, we had an issue of wanting to continue to provide certain programs to students.

    The reason I thought it was not a good idea to opt out was that there was no way to make the property tax increase progressive. The increase would have hit wealthy, middle class and poor taxpayers, and we had no power to make the tax progressive.

    Further, even at that date, it was clear South Dakota property taxpayers were paying equivalent property taxes for education purposes compared to adjacent states, but that South Dakota’s state government simply wasn’t stepping up to fund K-12 education. Other states were kicking in nearly 50% of the cost of K-12 education while South Dakota barely made it to 33%.

    Further, states that adopted an education funding formula similar to SD’s in the early-mid 90s, had also committed to vastly increasing the amount of state funding going into education. Most states did that, South Dakota did not. So, SD districts got stuck with a funding formula that was predicated on vastly increased state effort, but never got the state money.

    It’s the states problem, and has been since the mid-1990s. Fix it.

  9. Bill Fleming

    Lee, isn’t that (opt out) what Rapid City has done, and is now being challenged by what looks to me to be our local Tea Party people? Or is that different from what you’re talking about?

  10. tara volesky

    Dick Kneip won 3 terms as Governor of SD by running on a corporate and personal income tax. Why are Democrats afraid of discussing tax reform?

  11. Lee Schoenbeck

    Jim — the courage to fix a problem for 10 years would be a good start. I don’t think it is the time limit that holds them back from acting – in fact, pretty sure that isn’t it.

    Donald – you’re wrong about the revenue sources – in 1995 the state’s share of local education funding went up to just over 50%, where it has stayed consistently since then. But, you do a good job of showing insights into the mindset (yours) that is the problem faced by local school administrators. How do they get you, and many more like you, to stop making excuses and support increased funding for education – at the ballot box??

    Bill – I don’t know if the current school opt-out in RC is to aggressively raise educator pay, but the challenges that issue faces at the ballot box – at least in part – go to the mindset that has to be challenged. See Donald Pay’s comments above – I’m not sure its fair to say that’s a “tea party” group’s fault — unless Donald Pay is their cheerleader.

    The challenge faced — by all levels of government on this one – is winning over those who have a million excuses why any particular idea is a bad idea, when it comes to funding education.

  12. I live in a school district that is now on its third 5-year opt-out. Our teachers aren’t living high off of the hog; opt-outs aren’t designated simply for teacher salaries — we patrons are trying to keep the wolves from the school doors as a screwy state aide formula, declining enrollments (no one wants to live here anymore) and a Legislature and governor with their heads up you know where fail to do anything to improve the financial situation for schools across the state — a situation that Lee, I’m sure, is very familiar with. It’s interesting that his solution to the problem is to have local school boards do all the heavy lifting and do the crappy work that he and his colleagues in Pierre refuse to do. Guess what, Lee? We’ve reached point where school boards can’t improve things alone, even if everything they attempt to do is successful. Get off your arse in Pierre and pass something that will offer some real, long-term, substantial revenue increases to school districts. A new statewide revenue source would be great, for starters.

  13. tara volesky

    The opt-out in Rapid City is going down. People are sick and tired of paying high property taxes.

  14. Donald Pay

    No, Lee, state of South Dakota is a deadbeat. They have never, ever been much over 33% of education funding.

  15. Here’s a good story from KELO. If Harrisburg is having this much of a hard time getting and keeping how hard is it for the schools that aren’t close to Sioux Falls?

    We don’t need blue ribbon studies. We need action.

  16. tara volesky

    Any comments on a personal and corporate income tax? Richard Kneip got elected 3 times campaigning on fair taxes.

  17. Lee, I’m with Donald for the moment on the state share of education funding. Last May, I reported Census data that said that in 2012, the state was picking up 30.5% of the tab for K-12 education; the feds, 16.4%; the locals, 53.1%.

    Are we looking at different data and/or calculations of state/local burden?

  18. Lee’s question about opting out does challenge me. Yes, opting out is tough, it’s not progressive, it’s short-term money on which folks thinking like Dennis Daugaard would never base ongoing programs. But is opting out so bad that we never get even one outlier, one maverick school board that would say, “Pierre be darned, we’re raising our levy 80% and paying teachers what they deserve”?

    So let me ask this: Suppose we all come to an agreement on the additional amount of funding K-12 education should get, some whopper number like $100 million (good moonshot teacher pay boost, $10K+ for each teacher). We could get that money three ways:

    1. Every school district could opt out and raise its local levy the commensurate amount to achieve a statewide net increase of $100M.
    2. Lee and his colleagues in Pierre could raise the per-student allocation about $780 (which, times about 128,000 kids, gets us a $100M increase), meaning the state and the local districts would share the burden of the increase under the Cutler-Gabriel ratio (do I have that right, Lee?).
    3. Lee et al. could shout Nostra culpa!, wave their budget wands, and conjure up $100M in state funding allocated on top of the standard per-student allocation. No additional local burden, just more state revenue poured into K-12.

    All three of those scenarios take the same $100M out of taxpayers’ hides. But how would the burden fall differently in each scenario? Which scenario would impose the burden most fairly… or most politically saleably?

  19. MJL offers a substantial response on his blog, saying we’re already opt-outed out. But that does invite Lee’s question about the voters’ willingness to support this funding. If voters won’t pass more opt outs, would they accept legislators passing equivalent funding increases in Pierre?

    But hey, are legislators beholden to do the will of the people if the will of the people leads to educational decline? What’s the worst a spurned citizenry could do to legislators who voted for a revolutionary increase in K-12 funding against the popular will? Vote the bums out? Refer the general appropriations bill to a public vote?

  20. Donald Pay

    Well, you can go to a lot of places for the same data. The Education Commission of the States has years and years of this sort of data. It’s all been available to your fearless state leaders, but I suspect it will never penetrate above 1st floor in the Capitol Building. It hasn’t in 20 years, and I suspect a Blue Ribbon Committee isn’t going to change willful ignorance. That Legislators and the Governor don’t care enough about K-12 students to know this basic information is very disheartening. They aren’t even embarrassed by their ignorance, while they huff and puff trying to put the blame on others. Teachers, school boards, and administrators have had to live in the Legislator’s data-free fantasy world since the mid-1990s.

  21. Donald Pay

    Part of the problem with the state educational aid formula is that its primary purpose was to fund property tax relief, not education. The effect of the changes to education funding made in the mid-1990s was to funnel property tax relief through the education funding formula. It was a handy political trick, because state leaders could count the same money twice–once for education and once again as tax relief. Janklow was the master of this double counting, which is probably why some legislators still think education got a large boost in funding.

  22. Update on state/local burden: latest NEA report estimates that in this school year, the state is picking up 30.0% of the K-12 tab, the feds 13.6%, and the locals 56.4%. See p. 67 of this NEA March 2015 report:

    Kicking in that extra $100M while all other funding stays the same would raise the state’s share of K-12 funding to just about 35%.

  23. Travis Wicks

    Tara, I would support a progressive corporate and personal income tax, as long as we would eliminate food taxes and ease up on personal & farm property taxes. It would be political suicide to push for it currently, in my opinion, and that’s why no one in power, democrat or republican will bring it up or discuss it.

  24. Travis Wicks

    Oh, and by the way, Lee, I believe that there will be a school district in the Madison area that is going to vote for an opt-out this spring that is primarily focused on raising their staff salaries significantly. I can’t authenticate that, but that’s been the talk among some of my teaching colleagues, and I believe there was a story in both the Madison Daily Leader and KJAM’s website within the last couple of months.

    I think collectively as a state, we are “over-taxed” by having to continually vote and fund opt-outs on the local level. This system is clearly not working, and it’s time for something new and progressive that is fair and shows a genuine effort and courage by our state’s leaders to restore our state’s reputation as an educational leader in U.S.

  25. Donald Pay

    And, Cory, that 35% needs to be compared with the approximately 50% state share in adjacent states. The difference in per student expenditures between SD and adjacent states and the difference in teacher salaries is entirely due to SD state government shirking its duty. It’s not the locals shirking their duty. But there is willful ignorance in Pierre, and I doubt that wall of willful ignorance will ever come down.

  26. There oughta be a law . . . tying teacher pay to state LEOs pay. When LEO ranks were bleeding white from defections to other states and federal services BECAUSE of LACK of PAY the legislature dashed to raise LEO pay. Yet studies show that education and teachers preclude many, many later societal problems and anti-social behaviors, thus the value of teachers’ contribution to society far outstrips that of LEOs and the law enforcement-prosecutorial industrial complex.

  27. Paul Seamans

    While everyone argues whose responsibility it is to fund education the young people that might have become teachers will go into different professions or will leave the state if they do become teachers. There will be no teachers to hire.

  28. While there is some truth that school boards and administrators bear some responsibility for teachers salaries, implying they have the primary responsibility couldn’t be farther from the truth. The constitution clearly states this. While opt outs are a tool schools can use, the supreme court was clear in it’s opinion on opt outs – “The constitution makes funding education both a state and local school district responsibility. It requires the legislature to make provision “by general taxation and by authorizing the school corporations to levy such additional taxes as with income from the permanent school fund shall secure (the school system)…” Ultimately, however, the constitution imposes the duty on the legislature alone to “maintain” the school system and to devise the state and local tax system that will “secure” it. Whatever system the legislature devises, therefore, must be sufficient to ensure the funding of a constitutionally adequate school system in every district. A referendum conflicts with this constitutional requirement if it permits the voters in a district to reject taxes or levies necessary to fund a constitutionally adequate school system in the district. ” Approximately half of the districts in the state have either tried to opt out or have opted out.
    Many others, like our district, have tried to opt out and failed but currently view the capital outlay flexibility as a short term opt out. As others have pointed out, it’s difficult to raise long term salaries on short term money. Some districts simply don’t have a funding issue because of the inequity in funding when it comes to other revenues. There are districts in the state that get 2 times and even almost 3 times what other districts receive in per student funding because of inequities in other revenues. The system is badly broken and I don’t think local schools bear the responsibility to fix it. South Dakota – we can do better!!!

  29. Tim quotes the SD Constitution. It was on this basis that in the 1970’s The Education Commission of the States got the ASBSD and SDEA to put their money where their mouth was. Gordon Nelson and Bob Hald led their groups to a legal challenge that the legislature must fund a proper level of education. I think the case was filed in Mitchell (Davison County). Why don’t some of you guys look up the history of that action and report on it. Had that case been settled like the Associated School Boards of South Dakota wanted, the problems of education in South Dakota might be small today instead of insurmountable.

  30. I would like to raise two problems with local opt outs as solutions.

    One: The whole basis of the per student allocation and the leveling of revenue sources by Pierre back to the locals was to provide a level of equity in education. I respect that philosophy. The formula makes more of a level playing field so that students can get the same opportunities no matter their area code because the funding is equalized. When opt outs are used to provide “extras,” I see that as appropriate uses of locals putting in more to get something extra. If a local wants to enrich teacher salaries, then Lee’s comments are well taken. However, that is not the case. Raising salaries is not now to enrich the teachers – that ship has sailed. Now salary increases are to stem the shortages in the classrooms. Increasing salaries to to provide basic opportunity for students. As such, not an “extra” but an essential: getting qualified teachers into classrooms. When opt outs are used or advocated to fill opportunity gaps in locals, then we have lost the equity of the funding system and quickly degraded into have and have-not districts. Education opportunity now becomes a function of where you live within SD and that is wrong.

    Two: Opt outs only use property taxation as a revenue source. I believe there are those that would like to see more money go to education, but not property taxes (or sales taxes). Regressive taxation is not the only source of funds. When the bridges and roads discussion happened, the idea was to look to those who benefit from that infrastructure to pay a little more. The same ought to be true for education: let those who benefit pay a bit more. Let the corporations/companies which benefit from a well-educated workforce kick in a bit more the achieve that goal.

  31. Schoenbeck, perhaps the local superintendents and boards have watched Pierre in action and read tea leaves just like you do in Pierre??? You don’t want the Feds in education (Round’s mantra) but you would wither on the vine if it weren’t for Federal aid and ‘grants’ et al: from the rest of far more progressive states’ policies contributing to the federal taxes that you and the GOP seem to fall over each getting into line for. They can’t just raise “fees” as you do to cover their costs. You have put far too much money into Capital Outlay qnd not enough into General Funds for these districts. You have been foolhardy, me thinks.

  32. By the way Mr. Schoenbeck, you are to be admired for having the courage to use your given name!! SD does need some courageous Republicans. John Tsitrian comes to mind up front. But, I know there are some more. Hope they show themselves.

  33. John, I’m ignorant as to ‘LEO’s’. What are they?